x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Race to Witch Mountain

This third version of Alexander Key's children's novel Escape to Witch Mountain is quaintly innocuous and unsophisticated. Dwayne Johnson - who doesn't bill himself as The Rock these days, but still acts like one - is Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver who picks up two freaky kids.

Carla Gugino, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig and Dwayne Johnson in Race to Witch Mountain.
Carla Gugino, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig and Dwayne Johnson in Race to Witch Mountain.

This third version of Alexander Key's children's novel Escape to Witch Mountain is quaintly innocuous and unsophisticated. Dwayne Johnson - who doesn't bill himself as The Rock these days, but still acts like one - is Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver who picks up two freaky kids. Seth (Alexander Ludwig) has a disarming habit of dematerialising at will, while his sister Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) can read minds - or at any rate, Jack's. They wave a wad of money under Bruno's nose and ask him to head that-a-way - citing map coordinates, not place names. He goes along for the ride but becomes suspicious when they're chased first by a convoy of mysterious black SUVs, then by an even more mysterious UFO. Who are these kids and what are they up to? It's beyond Jack's comprehension, they say, and mine too: something about saving the earth from alien invasion. But that's not important. What is important is that Jack drives faster than his pursuers, enlists the aid of the comely astronomer Carla Gugino, gets them to Witch Mountain, and helps them safely home again. It's all very sub-Spielberg, with tacky special effects that smack of minimal box office expectations and a hackneyed climax in a subterranean government missile silo. Still, there's something appealing about its cheesy, self-deprecating humour and lack of pretension. Sci-fi rarely feels so old fashioned.

* Tom Charity