IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Witch Mountain’: Chase chase, bang bang

Disney remake relies upon the tried, the true and the violent. It's just one car chase after another.

It’s apparently Bankruptcy of Ideas Week at your local cineplex: Grown-ups get the grisly remake of “The Last House on the Left” and that stew of Sundance clichés “Sunshine Cleaning,” while the kids can see Disney’s retread of 1975’s “Escape to Witch Mountain,” now appropriately retitled “Race to Witch Mountain,” since this new version piles on one car chase after another.

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that — “Bullitt,” a film cited by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s cabbie character here as his favorite, opened up a whole new subgenre of action movies with its intense automotive action. But between the special effects and the general air of redundancy, the car stuff in “Race” gets boring fast, although youngsters at the very beginning of their moviegoing careers may dig it.

Johnson stars as Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cabbie who’s trying to go legit and avoid the clutches of a local mobster for whom he used to work as a driver. He thinks nothing of it when two somewhat odd siblings, Sarah (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), climb into his cab with a wad of cash and a desire to drive out to the desert. When mysterious men in black Escalades give chase, Jack assumes they’re with the mob.

The pursuers are actually all working under Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds), a Department of Defense higher-up who’s in charge of all things alien. And since Sarah and Seth crash-landed their spaceship in the Nevada desert, they fall under his jurisdiction.

The kids eventually convince Jack that they are extraterrestrials and that they are Earth’s only hope to avoid invasion, so he enlists the help of astrophysicist Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) — lucky for them, there’s a UFO convention in town — to help.

I grew up on the old-school Disney live-action movies, and I certainly was open to liking this one. (Other fans of classic Disney will appreciate the cameos by Kim Richards and Iake Eissinmann from the original “Witch Mountain,” as well as Meredith Salenger from “The Journey of Natty Gann” playing a Vegas news reporter named, of course, Natalie Gann.)

Unfortunately, director Andy Fickman never builds up particularly effective suspense — the two alien children are so super-powered that we never really fear for their safety — and he relies too much on Johnson’s onscreen shtick as the grumpy minder of sassy kids. (Fickman also directed Johnson in “The Game Plan.”)

Parents who are concerned about this sort of thing might want to know that, particularly by Disney standards, “Race to Witch Mountain” is fairly violent. There’s no explicit gore, but there are a whole lot of fistfights, shootouts and extreme road rage, plus a creepy alien assassin hunting down Sarah and Seth.

Even with all that, however, the film singularly lacks excitement and suspense. If Disney insists on raiding its own vaults for remakes, maybe they’ll have better luck with “The Laser-Vision, Missile-Launching, Face-Shredding Cat from Outer Space.”