Remember how entertaining Disney adventure films used to be, like Escape to Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space? Someone else does, too, and Race is a reminder that there still may be a little of that old Disney magic left.
An ex-con named Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) is trying to go legit in Las Vegas as a cab driver. After being shown a wad of money and asked to drive two mysterious teens, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), to a location out in the desert without any questions, Jack reluctantly takes the fare. It isn’t long afterward that a government spook (Ciar??n Hinds) and his gun-toting teammates show up to pursue the teens, but it’s the alien assassin with the laser gun that will make Jack start wonder if the guys attending the UFO convention in town are actually the crazy ones or not.
The actual story for this sequel/remake may have been in flux right up until final cut, because our sources had it wrong, primarily about “Witch Mountain” itself. In the original two films, Witch Mountain was played up to be an alien colony on Earth that the US government had been taught to let alone. In this version, it’s an Area 51 clone set up to look more like Stargate Command. Further more, there’s the repeated name of a small local town where Sheriff Antony (Ike Eisenmann) and a waitress named Tina (Kim Richards) seem to be keeping an eye on things (fans of the original series need no explanation). So, which is it? Whatever the end result, the film itself is exactly as advertised: a sci-fi race to save the aliens and save the world (while dropping plenty of hints for a potential sequel and franchise).
Once again, man-made global catastrophe enters into the plot line, but this time the alien race appears to be at least trying to do something about it (unlike Keanu Reeves The Day the Earth Stood Still remake). While there was also plenty of built-in advertising (Planet Hollywood, ABC News, Dell), having a portion of the film featured around a UFO convention provided plenty of Galaxy Quest-styled in-jokes to those paying close attention, even a nod to writer/futurist Harlan Ellison (Garry Marshall). Carla Gugino’s part as Dr. Alex Friedman seemed both obvious and underused, but she didn’t let that diminish her part in the whole. Extra attention was provided to “men in black” Tom Everett Scott and Chris Marquette, but this arc didn’t seem to pan out; maybe a setup for a later sequel?
While the overall production provided plenty of sci-fi goodness and adventure, it also maximized destruction and special effects while maintaining a PG rating (aka no blood, few deaths, mostly bad people). There’s a family friendly atmosphere throughout the show led by Dwayne Johnson, who seems well aware that he’s got something good going on here with the Mousehouse. While script-wise there were more than a few instances of unbelievability, there’s plenty of heart in these characters even if there didn’t seem to be enough time to justify it. Mostly kid-safe and adult-tolerable, here’s your first real family film of the year and return to form for Disney in the “doesn’t have to insult your intelligence to be fun” category.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)