Here’s another franchise relaunch …
Given that Disney’s 1970s duo Escape From Witch Mountain and Return to Witch Mountain were lightly likeable, disposable kidflick sci-fi road movies, this make-over for the franchise (which began with a novel by Alexander Key) is right on the money. It’s busy, linear, child-pleasing and fairly forgettable, but entertaining enough while it’s running. The original films were all about the mystery siblings, played by Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann (who cameo here – Eisenmann has more vowels to his name now), and it was only revealed near the end of Escape that they had super-psi powers because they were from outer space. Here, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) announce from the get-go that they’ve fallen to Earth and want to get their flying saucer back from the evil government agency who’ve snatched it, and the viewpoint character is ex-con cab-driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne ‘don’t you ever call me The Rock again’ Johnson), the equivalent of the friendly kook played by old Eddie Albert in Escape, who feels obliged to help the kids evade the stomping killer alien assassin on their trail, hook up with an astrophysics babe (Carla Gugino) at a UFO convention (cue Whitley Strieber cameo) and defy evil government spook Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds).
There’s a mcguffin about a hand-held device which will persuade the kids’ race not to invade the Earth on the weird grounds that our climate change isn’t terminal the way theirs is – and that our example will help save their environment, which is a reversal of the usual aliens-are-way-smarter-and-smugger-than-us cliché – but the plot is your basic succession of chases, stunts and non-fatal fights, with the kids manifesting useful powers of telekinesis, density modification and mind-reading as required and the Ro … Johnson thumping passing hoods, heavies, men in black and Star Wars geeks. The UFO con is broadly comic, with the heroine’s serious talk ignored by abductee/cattle mutilation ranters, but we get the usual government cover-ups, black helicopters and secret bases out of every saucer conspiracy movie ever made. Robb, who’s impressed in a run of offbeat kid roles, is given bland material – these are yet more aliens who’ve learned English, but not contractions or that it’s acceptable to address people by forms other than their full names – and little to do, while the blander Ludwig fares even worse outside of one spectacular standing-in-front-of-a-crashing-car stunt. Next up, I guess, will be Watcher in the Woods* or The Cat From Outer Space.
*this did happen.