Pros: Dwayne Johnson, some very funny bits...
Cons: ... most of it is just spectacle with no substance.
Race to Witch Mountain is a strange movie, in that it's obviously aimed mainly at young children, yet the best bits are those slyly aimed at the adults in the audience. Starring former wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, this has much in common with American wrestling - lots of noise, plenty of bangs and crashes, a bit of humour, but no real substance.
It all starts out with Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson), a cabbie in Las Vegas, trying to keep away from his criminal past - which isn't easy as his last boss is quite persistent. He meets scientist Dr Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) when she takes his cab to a "freak conference" - alien convention - and she will be an important figure in the movie later on. For now though Jack doesn't believe in aliens at all... something which will change when he actually meets them... except they appear to be just normal kids, Sara (Anna Sophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig). They're on an important mission and need to get back to their spaceship, via avoidance of an assassin, and stearing clear of the authorities led by the single-minded Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds).
Amidst the many explosions and action sequences (most of which are, to be fair, pretty well handled) there are quite a few funny one-liners, almost all of them uttered by Jack. Though Dwayne Johnson's acting isn't flawless, I really like him in comedy roles as he has a good sense of timing and a very theatrical face! Naturally he handles the action scenes very well too. His character was relatively well developed, particularly in his failure to initially realise what was happening because he thought the crime boss he'd disappointed by staying straight was after him. Both kids were fine on the whole, though I thought Abba Sophia Robb's performance was a little too... well, human. They were meant to be aliens after all, and the way Alexander Ludwig spoke and gestured made you believe he wasn't quite from this planet. Their characters were ... well, pretty much what you'd expect from a kid's movie - straightforward. I felt that in early scenes they looked too amazed to see things that, while amazing for a human, were surely meant to be pretty commonplace among their race.
Ciaran Hinds was fine, although I thought this sort of role was a bit of a departure for him. Carla Guigino wasn't too bad, didn't quite warm to her character though. The rest of the cast were okay, nothing outstanding and nothing terrible. Garry Marshall clearly enjoyed playing a conspiracy theorist who's views were almost diametrically opposite those of Friedman, who was trying to put forward everything as purely scientific.
Some of the best scenes came when Jack and co were at the alien convention - a lot of the jokes were pretty obvious, but some were funny nonetheless. The movie might have worked better if they're concentrated the whole thing around the idea of being a spoof sci-fi movie. As it was, there were moments of good comedy surrounded by a lot of crash boom bangs.
The special effects were okay, good in places but a little lacking in others. The music score (Trevor Rabin) was nice enough, typical "spooky alien" music at times, fast action music the rest. Director Andy Fickman keeps the action moving along at a decent pace.
All in all this is an entertaining enough movie, but certainly not a great one. There's just about enough to keep adults interested, but it could have been better and I don't think I'd watch it again, so I wouldn't particularly recommend it (unless you have children who're dying to see it!).
Incidentally I've never seen the original "Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)", so I can't say how good / bad this version is in comparison. Actor Ike Eisenmann was in both the original and this movie (he played a sheriff in the 2009 version).
As a kid's sci-fi movie it's not nearly as good as the recent animated movie Monsters vs Aliens
For a genuinely funny sci-fi movie, watch Galaxy Quest