RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN * * * *
Cert PG, 98 mins
An alien boy and girl arrive on Earth looking to save their world and ours in this frenetic comedy action adventure thriller. And who better to drive the pair around in a taxi than ex-con Jack Bruno, played by wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Now 36 and still in full possession of his muscular faculties, Johnson has a deceptive charm on the silver screen that plays well with youngsters.
Adults familiar with the original 1975 Donald Pleasance film based on the Escape to Witch Mountain novel by Alexander Key might well wonder what Hollywood has done to it.
But movies like Close Encounters, ET and Star Wars have moved the world on since then as this film gratuitously acknowledges.
And, by not taking itself so seriously, this latest “reimagining” is much more fun than last year’s The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Directed by Andy Fickman (She’s The Man, The Game Plan), the story begins with Las Vegas cabbie Jack Bruno suddenly discovering he’s got two extra-terrestrials on his back seat.
Siblings Sarah (Bridge to Terabithia star AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Canadian youngster Alexander Ludwig) are both in a hurry. They need to save the Earth and to get home.
With government forces led by Ciaran Hinds’ Henry Burke constantly on their tails, the race is on in a film which has shades of X Files and current animation blockbuster Monsters vs Aliens.
There isn’t too much here that’s new for adults.
But with a sci-fi convention, a spaceship and even a dog in tow it’s certainly watchable enough, especially if you can remember how you used to love movies like this when you were under 12.
Be wary about taking children under eight, though. The atmosphere is deceptively intense and often violent for a film branded as a Disney-PG. GY
FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING * * * *
Cert 15, 117mins
One of the few films about The Troubles to be actually filmed in Belfast, this is based on the real story of Martin McGartland. Jim Sturgess adopts a flawless Belfast accent to play a young Martin in the 1980s.
When he’s arrested for selling stolen goods, the police try to recruit him as an informer. At first he refuses and is happy to carry out jobs for the IRA, until his friend is kneecapped by the terrorists.
Special Branch handler Fergus (Ben Kingsley) plays on his divided loyalties, saying: “I’m offering you a job you can feel good about. They’re offering you one likely to get you killed.”
Martin rises up through the IRA ranks while passing information to Fergus. His tip-offs about planned bombings save at least 50 lives, but he plays an increasingly dangerous game and jeopardises his relationship with his girlfriend Lara (Natalie Press).
Whenever he has doubts about betraying his friends, Fergus tries to persuade him he’s doing the right thing. “The price of a conscience is death,” he tells him. “None of us can afford it.”
Bleakly gripping, it boasts a good script and strong performances.
What a shame, though, that much of the effort put into building up tension is wasted. Thanks to a flash-forward at the very start of the film, we know Martin survived several brushes with death. RL
FAST & FURIOUS * * *
Cert 12A, 106 mins
If you’ve bitten your nails down to your knuckles worrying about the credit crunch, here’s a film to take your mind off things for the best part of two hours.
The highest grossing opening weekend film in the US this year is the fourth instalment of the eminently missable Vin Diesel series about racing, chasing and crashing cars.
It’s a movie which seemingly seeks to do nothing but create a new in-car term – splat-nav.
Impossible to follow except by pretending you’ve been strapped into a seat alongside one of the drivers, the prologue’s action sequence alone will have you screaming to escape.
A tanker heist on a spectacular mountain road in the Dominican Republic is worth watching just for the scenery as much as the high octane editing.
Thereafter, it’s just one more chase after another, with bad boy Dominic Toretto (Diesel) even feeling emotional over girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).
He’s also seeking revenge against the same shadowy underworld figure involved in the drugs trade on the US-Mexico border that the returning Paul Walker (Det Brian O’Conner) is after.
“We’ll figure it out, we always do,” is one of the script’s lines which could also be applied to the viewers’ perspective.
Diesel’s view that “I’m one of those boys who appreciates a fine body regardless of the make” is merely echoing the thoughts of teenage wannabe boy racers everywhere. They’ll be drawn to this like flies to a jam jar. GY
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN * * *
Cert 15, 114 mins
Last year’s huge teen hit was Twilight, a Hollywood vampire film.
This Swedish film also features a likeable blood-sucker, but is a very different kettle of fish.
Instead of gloss, everything is stark and bleak. Instead of a crystal clear narrative, nothing is spelled out. But if you like your films to be more of an intellectual challenge, you’ll probably enjoy this strange and baffling but original fare.
Oskar (Hedebrant) is a lonely 12-year-old, living with his mum in a dreary Stockholm flat and imagining how he might take revenge on bullies.
When he meets his neighbour Eli (Leandersson), he’s intrigued. She only comes out at night, she’s very pale, she smells strange and doesn’t feel the cold – in fact, she’s a vampire.
It’s a beautifully shot coming of age tale, with arresting images and excellent performances from the two young leads. RL