Mr. Movie

The Rock is solid in 'Race to Witch Mountain'

Disney Studios used to churn five or six of these out a year. Their cookie-cutter plots and use of TV talent or washed-up former superstars nearly ruined the company.

A few of them were passable but most were schlock even unfit for TV and certainly not what founder Walt Disney envisioned when he began making films in the 1930s and when he expanded into this style of filmmaking in the 1960s.

Race to Witch Mountain is a throwback to that era and is a recycling of two of Disney’s better and more popular films: 1975’s Escape to Witch Mountain and the 1978 sequel, Return From Witch Mountain.

And it’s not bad.

Duane (The Rock) Johnson stars Jack Bruno, a taxi driver trying to escape his criminal past. Two very strange kids hop in his cab and need a ride into the middle of the Nevada desert. An alien chasing them attacks and Bruno saves the day.

They’re also aliens and came to Earth to retrieve a device that will restore the oxygen to their dying planet. The creature chasing them is part of a group that wants to invade the Earth instead of going to the effort to replenish the oxygen supply.

AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) and Alexander Ludwig are the two kids. Carla Gugino is a scientist specializing in the possibility of alien life in the universe and character actor Ciaran Hinds (Miss Pettygrew Lives for a Day) is the villainous government agent who will stop at nothing to capture them.

As a nice touch, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann — who played the kids from the original film — do cameos.

Johnson’s acting has improved. Instead of grunting lines in stentorian fashion, Johnson now gives them the nuances needed for convincing conversation. He also seems to have found his niche — the common chase movie.

Though Hinds isn’t as intimidating as Christopher Lee or Bette Davis from the sequel or Donald Pleasence and Ray Milland in the original, he’s a passable villain.

He needs more to do. So does everyone else. Though this is squeaky clean and one you can be totally comfortable taking kids to see, it needs the comic relief of a funny sidekick and some humor.

Maybe we’ll see some of that in the sequel. Count on it. There will be one.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated PG for mature themes. It opens Friday, March 13 at the Carmike 12 and at Fairchild Cinemas 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.