Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) is a lowly cab driver and has been for a couple of years since he got out of prison for working with underworld criminal types, where his driving skills came in handy. He has no plans to go back to that way of life and wants to stay out of trouble, even if it means he spends his days unfulfilled on the streets of Las Vegas looking for the next fare, but tonight things will take a drastic turn for the exciting. Recently, the American top secret military tracked a craft hailing from a distant galaxy which crashlanded in the desert near the city, and now the two occupants are on the run - and asking Jack for help.
The Witch Mountain movies of the seventies were, if not classic Disney, diverting enough for a generation of kids to spend some time with when they appeared on their frequent airings on television for decades. Apparently noticing their appeal, essentially the old kids with magic powers plot that has gone down well with youngsters for centuries, Disney decided to produce this remake, or was it a sequel? There were references to the original movies in this, not least because the two original stars, now grown up, appear here as well, though in civilian roles and without any evidence of special abilities, so those who knew the first two films would be pleased to see Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards showing up in support.
Therefore the project had their blessing, and in truth it was to the noughties what the original was to the seventies, only with a more lavish special effects budget. That tapping into the UFO space alien craze was as much a part of its decade as the previous efforts had been, only here it was yet more pronounced with a title sequence boasting newspaper clippings and footage of various landmarks in the subject's history: even Britain's Rendlesham Forest case gets a mention. The brother and sister, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), who arrive from outer space initially are reluctant to let on what on Earth is going on, so we are as much in the dark as Jack.
As played by Dwayne Johnson, he is a grumpy sceptic, but as with Disney movies of old, that kind of character does not come up against their brand of whimsy without being somehow affected and even reformed in some way by it, and so it is here. But what screenwriters Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback do is mix up the flying saucer spotters with the science fiction fans, with the result that the entire movie is an attempt to get Jack in touch with his inner geek. Early on we see him bad tempered in the face of two convention-goers dressed as Star Wars Stormtroopers, but by the end of the film he is high fiving them as if they were old friends - they might as well be chanting "One of us! One of us!"
There has to be a baddie here, and in keeping with the whole conspiracy angle that seems so much of UFOs these days, it is those government suits who are after the kids, with plans to do some dastardly experiments on them to discover how they do all that weird stuff such as reading minds, passing through solid objects, or making things float (not enough floating things here, actually, it's an underused effect and you could not claim that of the originals). Chief bad guy is Burke (Ciarán Hinds), a company man who has a rival in the boo-hiss stakes from another space alien, a sort of Predator chap who is a sharpshooter with his laser gun, and has to be vanquished before the space children can do whatever it is they have to do (it's not crystal clear) and head for home. Add in a game Carla Gugino as a researcher designed to illustrate that not all Planet Earth's alien hunters are nutters, and you have a light, action packed and amusing slice of family sci-fi which rather unfortunately overenthusiastically endorses violence over intelligence as a way to succeed. Music by Trevor Rabin.