I think I could be very happy watching several films a day, some in the cinema, some on DVD; I don’t think I’d improve my reviewing skills, but that wouldn’t matter. I’d probably write a few notes, like this, just to keep the memories of them alive in my head somewhere.
Race To Witch Mountain
When will Dwayne Johnson find a film that will suit his talents? He can do action, he can do humour, he’s charming – yet I can’t think of a film that captures all that and is really good. He might be good in things, but they never really raise above the VID rating (or worse, even when he was really good – he was fantastic in Be Cool, but that’s a really woeful movie). This film, which is a remake of the Disney film Escape To Witch Mountain from the mid-1970s, is a light and entertaining, a family picture that is neither bad nor great, just pleasant and enjoyable but without leaving any trace after you’ve seen it. Johnson is his usual reliable self, as is Carla Gugino, someone I’ve enjoyed watching in film and television since Spin City, but who has never reached the level of fame that I thought she deserved. The kids aren’t too annoying, and the special effects are good, but I don’t think they’ll be making a sequel to this like they did the original.
I never saw the cartoon as a kid – I think it was a US thing – so I had no affinity with the concept. The film seemed to cause a bit of a stink, supposedly being a flop and reviews being unkind; however, I have to say that I liked it. I’m not saying it’s a great piece of cinema, but it did succeed in turning an anime into a live action spectacle. Much in the same way that the Wachowski brothers made a live action anime (of sorts) with the first Matrix film – we won’t mention the sequels – they were able to capture the essence of the animation, the feel and the vibe, and turn that into a family entertainment that is a visual spectacle of dazzling CGI that is exactly like a cartoon come to life. Yes, the story is fairly straightforward, with a sideline in stating baldly that corporations are bad, and the attempts at humour are pretty feeble, but it’s a lot of fun and the racing scenes are pretty amazing. It’s weird seeing Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as Speed Racer’s parents, and Christine Ricci as his girlfriend, but they never make it look like they’re slumming – everyone sells the idea of the heightened reality of the film, and you can believe in this very odd world. A lot of fun.
I was amazed by how well this film did in the US; I think it only stayed in the UK cinemas for a few weeks, before passing naturally to DVD, where it belongs. I was also amazed how by well it has been regarded in the world of DVD. It’s an efficient if brutal thriller that relies on sexism and racial prejudice for its plot, which seems to have been ignored by most people. I don’t know if I’m getting old – I might have enjoyed this without thinking much about it when I was younger – but the reliance on the abuse of women in this film really disturbed me (Liam Neeson’s daughter is captured while on holiday in in Paris by traffickers; they make a point of killing her friend who was responsible for them getting captured in the first place). For the sake of plot, it apparently takes 72 hours for traffickers to sell the women off, enough time to allow Neeson to get her back; it’s all very silly (I never thought I’d see Neeson as an action hero), if handled effectively enough Pierre Morel (he graduated from cinematographer in the likes of The Transporter, Danny The Dog and War to directing with District 13 – another film which uses the capture of a woman and the threat of torture to propel the plot; the only thing worth seeing in the film is the Parkour by the inventor, who is also the lead actor). The other disturbing aspect is the depiction of foreigners – it’s as if they took the cliché book of American beliefs about people outside the US and made a film about it; the fact that Luc Besson is co-writer and producer is slightly sad. I think I’ve written too much about a film I didn’t enjoy – isn’t that the way?