Movie News & Reviews

Confident Johnson drives 'Race' to the present

Sometimes when Hollywood remakes a movie, the question isn't so much "Is it better than the original?" It's "How did they change it?"

Take Disney's "Race to Witch Mountain," which reprises the 1975 "Escape to Witch Mountain" and its 1978 sequel, "Return to Witch Mountain." How does "Witch," the tale of two youngsters who are truly illegal aliens, play in the new millennium compared with the 1970s?

Then: Puppy-cute "orphaned" siblings Tia and Tony (Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, who have cameos as a waitress and sheriff in "Race") can't remember where they're from, but based on their unusual powers they sure aren't from around here.

Now: Robotronic sibs Sara and Seth (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) know exactly where they're from and if they can just find where their wrecked spaceship got towed, they'll be heading back.

Then: Begrudging benefactor Jason O'Day (a post-"Green Acres" Eddie Albert) is haunted by a love long lost.

Now: Begrudging benefactor Jack Bruno (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is hunted by a previous employer for felonious skills honed in his pre-cabbie past.

Some of the differences between the two earlier movies and "Race" show how times have changed. How society's geo-moral center has shifted, for instance.

Then: The action takes place in laid-back coastal California.

Now: The action takes place in live-like-there's-no-tomorrow Las Vegas.

Or who our collective enemy is.

Then: Stop-at-nothing business tycoons.

Now: The federal government.

Other differences show how little things have changed.

Then: Outrage, in a land reeling from the 1973 Arab oil embargo, over paying $10 to fill a Winnebago.

Now: Outrage, in a land reeling from $4-a-gallon gas from the Middle East, over a $720.50 cab fare.

Some differences show how moviemaking has changed.

Then: Laughably cheesy depiction of aforementioned Winnebago flying (you can almost see a production assistant's hand holding the toy Winnie aloft).

Now: Laughably over-the-top computer-generated effects that turn the fantastic into the banal.

What remains the same is what it takes to make a movie fun, escapist entertainment.

Then: "Escape" and "Return" were aimed at a younger audience, relying on special effects -- cheesy though they were -- and cute kids to attract an audience. For plots built on suspense, there was surprisingly little of it, and the dialogue was predictable to the point that you found yourself mouthing the words before the characters said them.

Now: The personable and funny Johnson and a tight script by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback elevate "Race" from simple kid fare. Johnson drives "Race" with the confidence he shows driving his G-man-eluding cab.

In the '70s, no self-respecting tie-dyed guy would have asked his bell-bottomed date out to see "Witch." Today, you can bet this "Witch" will be a topic of teens texting about weekend plans.

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