Effects-heavy Race to Witch Mountain lives up to its title

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      Starring Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, and Alexander Ludwig. Rated PG.

      The new Race to Witch Mountain is a case study in the way “family entertainment”—and the Mouse House—have changed in the past few decades.

      In this modern riff on 1975’s Escape to Witch Mountain, don’t expect the return of those adorable orphans with their psychic powers and magical black cat. Instead, brace for a hyperactive onslaught of high-tech gadgetry, multiple car chases, a Terminator-style robot assassin, and things that blow up real good.

      Watch the trailer for Race to Witch Mountain.

      This is not to say that Race to Witch Mountain is particularly bad. Director Andy Fickman has the action chops to pull off car and train chases to rival adult-oriented flicks.

      And you can’t really fault the teen actors here. It’s just that AnnaSophia Robb and promising local star Alexander Ludwig are more like the creepy blond kids in Village of the Damned than the cuddly waifs of so many corny old Disney movies.

      Like in the original, which mostly focused on two kids with mind powers trying to reunite with their family, Fickman announces immediately that these are alien wondertwins who have just crash-landed in the Nevada desert. At the beginning of the film, when they jump into cabbie Jack Bruno’s (Johnson’s) taxi, they say they “require transportation services” and promise a “currency transaction”. As for their superpowers, they’re as FX–pumped as this remake: in one scene, Ludwig stands in front of a speeding SUV and it folds and shatters around his rigid form. Sure, it looks cool, but Sara and Seth are so alien you can’t empathize with them.

      With ’50s-style, black-suited government agents (led by the wonderfully reptilian Ciarán Hinds) in hot pursuit, they have to race to Witch Mountain to save their world and ours. Bruno, who was once a getaway driver for the Vegas mafia but is trying to live a clean life now, spends much of the movie putting his skills behind the wheel to the test.

      Race devolves into, well, just what the title warns. It becomes a series of noisy chases, frequently punctuated by Johnson rolling his eyes at the crazy teen-alien antics.

      Few will mourn the loss of those heavy-handed feel-good lessons Disney used to dole out with its family fare. But shouldn’t you walk away from a film feeling something?