If Race to Witch Mountain, a reimagining of Disney’s 1975 live action non-classic, is any indication, the current economic fiasco is of such proportions that even the Mouse House is being forced to trim production values; similarly, one can infer from the film that upcoming generations are stricken with levels of ADD that are downright scary to contemplate, and that such deficiencies are being encouraged at that. Pauline Kael wrote that Raiders of the Lost Ark seemed “to be edited for the maximum number of showings per day”; whatever her response might have been to this new film, my guess is that mortal words wouldn’t suffice. Witch Mountain breaknecks its way through paint-by-numbers cinematics as if afraid that slowing down will expose its complete visual bankruptcy: Car chases seem assembled from a Michael Bay film’s excised footage, while virtually none of the purportedly dazzling images stay on screen long enough to truly register, most coming off as little more than a CG-heavy blur (and this is coming from someone who believes that Speed Racer is one of the best American films of 2008).
The story of two aliens disguised as teenagers trying to recover their lost spaceship with the help of a disgruntled Las Vegas cab driver (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) spins its wheels from the outset, as this contraption dispatches genuine storytelling in exchange for manufactured sensation of the cynically manipulative sort. Calling this family-friendly entertainment only indicates the low standards to which American entertainment culture has allowed itself to sink. The Rock remains one of the most inherently likeable stars working today, but no amount of agreeability can make up for blockbuster entertainment this transparent. And pity Ciarán Hinds as a one-dimensional government antagonist and Cheech Marin in a thankless cameo.
The problem isn’t that the film attempts to entertain in the manner of a theme park ride (in that it is driven not by story and character so much as stylistic energy and visceral momentum, something many great films have done with deft artistry and intelligence), but that the ride sucks, bringing to mind the creaky, rusty kind one forbids their children from riding lest they contract tetanus. Were it not for the dime-a-dozen mood-booster soundtrack, this slapped-together pile of leftover parts from countless other already mediocre flicks might very well fall apart and evaporate into thin air. Witch Mountain isn’t escapism but a feature-length reminder that things are bad all over.