Thursday, February 18, 2010

Race Sputters to a Screeching HALT.

Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

Disney. Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock). Race to Witch Mountain.

Put those three together and I expect a fun family adventure. What I got was sort of a watered down version of a Jason Bourne movie that was not fun and not an adventure.

The story is very simple: Jack (Johnson) is a cabbie just trying to make a living and keep out of the clutches of his old boss, a faceless Las Vegas mobster who sends goons around to hassle Jack every so often (or as the plot requires). Into Jack’s cab comes two teenagers, sister and brother Sara and Seth (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) who need a lift. Once Jack’s cab hits the blacktop there are lots and lots of car chases, explosions and fights. THIS IS DISNEY’S IDEA OF A FUN FAMILY MOVIE?

Here’s my problem: who the heck was the target for this movie? The filmmakers and stunt people seemed to want to make a Bourne movie or a beefed up episode of 24, complete with government SWAT guys in black with machine guns and overly complicated camera work. THIS IS DISNEY’S IDEA OF A FUN FAMILY MOVIE?

Ciaran Hinds plays the typical (which seems to be the buzzword for every aspect of this movie) government alien hater. He runs around saying “They must be stopped” and “You have no idea what you are getting into.” Here’s a tip filmmakers: watch Midnight Run (just don’t copy their cuss words). Dennis Farina’s mobster Jimmy Serrano is hilarious (but Farina plays him totally straight). He gets on the phone to his goons, “Is this Moron number one? Put Moron number two on.” Another great line, “Don't say a word to me, Sidney, don't say a f------ word to me. I'll get up and I'll bury this telephone in your head.” When it’s time to get menacing, he does that too. If you’re going to hire Ciaran Hinds, WRITE SOME BETTER MATERIAL FOR THE MAN! Hinds can do menacing in his sleep, so why not write a character with a sense of humor about his job, some measure of depth, or a quirk or two, instead of just a one-note robot.

Dwayne Johnson has proven himself a very talented comedic actor; his appearances on SNL are gold. He’s not afraid to look silly, all for the sake of a funny joke. The filmmakers – writers Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback with Andy Fickman directing – appear to have never seen Johnson do comedy* because they constantly have him spout limp dialogue and go through the motions with the standard action movie hero beats. Fer chrissakes guys, this is an actor who once donned a BIGFOOT costume! USE THIS!

Johnson and the kids, who turn out to be aliens, are on the run in Vegas while a UFO Convention is going on. Well, have them dress up as some wacky aliens (have an alien pretending to be a human kid pretend to be an alien - see how that works?). When we first see Johnson a couple of geeks dressed as Star Wars stormtroopers get in his cab, much to his consternation (he’s not a fan of this goofy sci fi stuff). Have Johnson dress up as a stormtrooper and try to bluff his way out of a situation. Use that irony for laughs! Nothing in his interactions with the kids is funny or witty or clever, except one brief exchange involving a dog. The kids speak very formal English and always call Jack by his full name, Jack Bruno. GEE, THAT’S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE! (Yes, that was sarcasm.) They spend far too much time ducking laser bolts and explosions created by the alien terminator out to destroy the kids.

Johnson has several fight scenes, all of which are, you guessed it, standard action hero stuff. It’s all instantly forgettable. Why not take a page from Jackie Chan’s book and make Johnson’s fight scenes funny? Have him use whatever is on hand instead of his fists to defeat the bad guys. There’s no chance that Johnson would be seen as a Jackie Chan clone because he’s not a martial artist, but he is a physical actor due to his wrestling background. Since you’re doing a PG-Rated family film, why not tone down the punching and throwing people against walls (which is actually WORSE than punching – it’s brutal!) into something fun, clever and memorable.

These filmmakers would have had Back to the Future’s Marty McFly simply punch Biff instead of outwitting and outmaneuvering him so that Biff always ends up in a pile of manure by his own actions. EVERYONE remembers those scenes, but no one will ever talk about the action/fight scenes in Race to Witch Mountain. Or anything else in the movie for that matter.

* even though Fickman directed Johnson in Disney’s The Game Plan (2007)

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