‘Witch Mountain’ remake weak

Posted March 15, 2009, at 11:23 p.m.

In theaters

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, directed by Andy Fickman, written by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback, 99 minutes, rated PG.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a new movie out. It’s a remake of 1975’s “Escape to Witch Mountain,” which the brass at Disney now are calling “Race to Witch Mountain,” a title that makes perfect sense since the movie itself appears to have been made in a massive rush.

Working from Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback’s script, director Andy Fickman offers a bland retelling of the already bland source material, which, like the economy, hasn’t exactly held up.

To be fair to the original film, it didn’t seem so bland back in the day. Upon leaving the theater, many tots likely were intoxicated by the idea that perhaps they, too, could lift objects with their minds and hurl them with reckless abandon at whatever struck their ire or fancy. After seeing the remake, the same might be true for this film’s target audience of young boys and girls, though that’s probably questionable for one specific reason.

Today’s special effects and action sequences have been amplified to such an impressive level, this movie can’t compete with them. That’s where the disappointment will settle in, never mind the sluggish pace of the story itself or the several wooden performances tucked within it.

In the film, Johnson is Jack Bruno (of course he is), a Las Vegas taxi driver with former ties to the mob (not to mention to prison) who finds himself protecting two alien children. They are Seth (Alexander Ludwig, awful) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb, horrible), two blond-haired, blue-eyed youths who are so creepy, they suggest that Hitler, were he alive, might have been responsible for the casting call.

Since FBI agent Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) is after them, it’s up to Jack to keep them out of Burke’s hands while also figuring out a way to get them to Witch Mountain, where their space ship is being held for examination. If they don’t reach their ship and make it back home in time, trouble will ensue for all of us since Seth and Sara’s peeps are planning to take over Earth. Naturally, all of that can be prevented if Jack, Seth, Sara and a sexy scientist (Carla Gouging) — race to Witch Mountain!

Unfortunately, that exclamation point isn’t really deserved, particularly given Fickman’s lax direction, which shows no finesse for moving the action movie forward at the brisk clip it deserved. The best part of the movie turns out to be Johnson himself, who once again comes through with a game performance, but beyond him, nothing here is remarkable, nothing especially worth recommending. It’s just an old relic with new clothes and a weaker heart.

Grade: C-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

ROLE MODELS, directed by David Wain, written by Paul Rudd, Wain, Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling, 99 minutes, rated R.

The funny David Wain movie, “Role Models,” stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as Danny and Wheeler, two adult best friends who haven’t exactly reached their personal zeniths. During any given week, you’ll find them humiliating themselves daily by shucking an energy drink called Minotaur at school conventions.

Doing so involves Wheeler wearing a furry Minotaur suit and Danny driving a juiced-up Minotaur truck. It has monster wheels, an aggressive paint job, and the ability to shoot great balls of fire out of its horns. Classy.

When they get into trouble with the law, they find themselves at a crossroads — be sent to jail for one month, or give 150 hours of their time to the rough-and-tumble world of “Sturdy Wings,” which essentially is a Big Brother program, though not in any conventional sense.

It is, after all, run by Gayle (Jane Lynch, sour, bitter, outstanding), a woman who claims she once ate cocaine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since she apparently has been reformed (that’s debatable), she wants the best for her young charges, the lot of whom she calls her “Littles.”

For Gayle’s “Bigs,” such as bright, sarcastic Danny, who is so gloomy, his relationship with his lawyer girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) ends as the movie begins, that means being saddled with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a geek through and through, and an endearing one at that. Since he has a difficult, combative home life, he exists in a medieval fantasy world, dressing in capes and partaking in fake battles with others of similar ilk.

As for Wheeler, who isn’t as sharp as Danny but whose heart is bigger, he’s challenged with Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, stealing each of his scenes), a devil child with a mind for trouble and a mouth apparently designed to drop a string of F bombs. This kid isn’t just a handful — he’s the antichrist.

As played by Thompson, he’s also one of the movie’s great pleasures. He’s such a gifted comic, he gives the movie the boost of unpredictability it needs and helps to distract you from what otherwise is just a simple film driven by formula.

Grade: B+

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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