Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements. 99 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
If you grew up in the 1970s, you probably have some fond moviegoing memory of “Escape to Witch Mountain.”
Sure, the special effects look dated — the flying Winnebago with Eddie Albert at the wheel, for example. But the 1975 action-adventure tale of an orphaned brother and sister with psychic powers still holds up for all ages. What kid wouldn’t want to communicate with animals telepathically, or magically make stuff hit a bully in the face?
With “Race to Witch Mountain” — a re-imagining, not a remake, to use the vernacular — the kids are about six years older, which depletes the story of some of its sweetness. It’s also harder to care about them because they’re not really the ones driving the story — they’re literally passengers in what is essentially yet another family friendly vehicle for Dwayne Johnson.
The artist formerly known as The Rock stars as Jack Bruno, an ex-con trying to carve out a clean life as a Las Vegas cab driver. The role once again requires him to play a tough guy with a soft heart.
One day, alien brother and sister Seth and Sara (Alexander Ludwig and AnnaSophia Robb) mysteriously appear in the back seat of his car, produce a wad of cash and ask him to take them to an indeterminate location.
Their arrival there is crucial to the survival of their planet. But first, they must endure a series of repetitive and bombastic car chases, as they try to hide from both government baddies with nefarious plans (led by Ciaran Hinds) and an alien assassin on a mission to destroy them.
The film is all noise and action, over-edited shootouts with blaring music. And it has none of the small charms of the original, though the ethereally pretty Robb has a likable presence.
What “Race to Witch Mountain” does retain from the 1975 movie are its stars, Iake Eissinmann and Kim Richards (she’s still cute!), who make knowing cameos at a small-town diner. And yes, there is a Winnebago, driven by wisecracking Garry Marshall as a UFO conspiracy expert.
Carla Gugino doesn’t get much to do as Marshall’s rival, a scientist who believes in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. If there really are aliens out there with superpowers, though, couldn’t they have come up with a better script?
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use. 109 min. Zero stars out of four.
It could be interpreted as the most vile, misogynistic “Just Say No” ad ever.
Then again, you’d have to assume that this remake of the 1972 Wes Craven classic has a point, other than pure shock value. Craven’s debut was by no means great art (even though it was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning “The Virgin Spring”), but at least it had suspense, and in retrospect it’s easy to see how its low-budget brutality influenced decades of horror filmmakers to come.
Director Dennis Iliadis’ take retains the same basic story — a couple of teenage girls on the hunt for pot get abducted and savagely attacked by psychopaths — but there’s nothing particularly special about it artistically.
It’s slick and quick and loud, filled with the typical amped-up thumps that accompany every body blow.
The result is never scary, but instead feels deplorably gratuitous — especially a rape scene in the woods, which goes on forever and seems intended for titillation.
Sara Paxton and Martha MacIssac play the girls in trouble, Garret Dillahunt leads the crazed killers and a miscast Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter play the parents who ultimately get their bloody revenge.