When young, superpowered aliens Sara (Robb) and Seth (Ludwig) get into ex-con Jacks (Johnson) taxi, they set in motion a chase involving federal goons, an otherworldly assassin and a secret that may just hold the key to the fate of Earth...
For someone who started his movie career under a pseudonym, it’s perhaps unsurprising that The Rock’s career to date has seen him endure something of an identity crisis, flitting from genre to genre like an indecisive customer in Blockbuster.
Some have worked (action, with Welcome To The Jungle), some haven’t (apocalyptic mash-ups, with Southland Tales), but finally, with the switch to Disney-sanctioned fare like The Game Plan and now this semi-remake of the 1975 semi-classic, Escape To Witch Mountain, he may finally be becoming the movie star he’s always threatened to be.
Of course, The Rock is dead now — long live Dwayne Johnson — but the God-given charisma that separates him from all the other ex-wrestling lugs out there remains. Although when we first meet Johnson’s disenchanted, monosyllabic Jack Bruno, that charisma is held firmly in check. At times, as he pummels a punching bag in his shithole apartment, it’s almost as if Travis Bickle had wandered into a Disney flick.
But when the alien kids, winningly played by AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig, get into his cab, the shields come down. As ever, Johnson excels when he’s required to punch and kick people — and, unusually for a Disney, there’s plenty of that, particularly when the alien assassin, the Siphon, shows up. But he also displays a fine comic touch, notably in scenes where he’s creeped out by Robb’s telekineticism, or holds a conversation with an overfriendly, semi-telepathic dog.
As you might expect with a remake, even a loose one like this, there’s nothing particularly original here. The kids’ powers are cribbed from comic books, while there’s more than a hint of The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man in the omnipresent sneer of Ciarán Hinds’ dogged, alien-hunting spook.
But director Andy Fickman, becoming something of a family-friendly Scorsese to his Game Plan star Johnson’s De Niro, papers over the cracks by moving things along at a relentless pace, and showing off a hitherto unsuspected flair for suspense. And if the climax is a little clunky, with undistinguished action sequences, the movie manages to scrape through on the force of its quirky personality.
An unexpectedly entertaining mixture of good, clean Disney fun with some rather more modern action scenes, lent charm by Johnsons natural swagger. One of the better family films in a while.