This week’s notable DVDs include two science fiction films for families and an intimate drama starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx.
Race to Witch Mountain
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Disney’s re-imagining of the 1975 family adventure “Escape to Witch Mountain” has its share of flaws but it’s still a likable feature, in large part thanks to the winning cast.
Dwayne Johnson stars as Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver with a criminal past. Despite his desire to go straight, former associates are trying to lure him back to a life of crime, but that becomes a minor concern when two children, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), wind up in his cab and offer him $15,000 for an extraordinarily long journey.
It doesn’t take long for Johnson to learn that the kids have special abilities and that they’re being hunted by both the U.S. government and something far worse. When Sara and Seth tell Jack they are actually extraterrestrial, he balks. Still, he sticks with them, trying to keep them out of harm’s way despite increasing trouble and the nagging thought that they’re telling the truth. Eventually, Jack recruits a beautiful scientist named Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) to the cause.
The story has a number of plot holes, most notably that the children regularly fail to use their abilities at times when they would come in most handy and that elite government agents are depicted as bumbling goons. This may bother demanding viewers, but the youngsters in the audience should be able to look past the trouble spots and enjoy the ride. Truth is, adults can do that too, and those who like Johnson’s affable demeanor probably will. He is impressive from start to finish and Robb, Ludwig and Gugino only make him better.
Credit also goes to director and co-writer Andy Fickman who keeps the pace fast enough that viewers don’t have time to dissect the nagging inconsistencies
The movie is available on multiple home video releases, including a three-disc set featuring both Blu-ray and standard DVD versions of the movie. Extra features vary.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Many things are capable of transitioning a film from basic entertainment to an emotional experience, and in the case of “The Soloist,” it’s a fact-based story.
Inspired by a series of columns from Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez, the movie recounts the journalist’s relationship with a promising musician whose mental illness forced him to drop out of Juilliard and live on the streets. It’s a compelling story that casts light not only on Lopez’s friendship with the man, Nathaniel Ayers, but calls attention to the growing problem of homelessness in America.
Director Joe Wright, also responsible for the 2005 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” and the 2007 Academy Awards darling “Atonement,” gathered an outstanding cast, with Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Ayers. Both men are in great form, and they play off each other beautifully. In fact, their chemistry keeps the film interesting even when Wright allows his pacing to lag, which happens primarily when he leaves the primary story to focus on subplots about Lopez’s romantic life and the disintegration of the newspaper industry.
Both topics are interesting, but they get just enough screen time to distract from the point of “The Soloist,” which is to recount Lopez’s efforts to improve Ayers’ life even though the man is resistant to help. Fortunately, Downey and Foxx make it easy to look beyond the movie’s troubles and immerse oneself in the finer dramatic elements.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, a making-of feature and a commentary by Wright.
Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action violence
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD
“Delgo” was a bomb when released theatrically, and it’s not a perfect film, but it is good enough to merit a rental for children who enjoy fantasy and science fiction.
The story is set on a distant world, but the universal themes hit close to home. In a brief introduction, viewers learn that the Lokni people — a human-like race — welcomed a race of winged refugees (the Nohrin) to their planet in years past.
At first, it was a happy marriage, but as the Nohrin began to demand more territory, war broke out, creating a tense standoff similar to that between the Israelis and Palestinians.
One day, a Lokni teen named Delgo finds himself in danger in the borderland between the two communities, and he is rescued by the Nohrin princess, Kyla. They begin a tentative relationship that forces Delgo to look at the Nohrins differently, but when the princess is kidnapped, he and his friend Filo are blamed. This development threatens to re-ignite the stagnant war between the two races and destroy the peace they both value.
For a children’s movie, “Delgo” does a fine job explaining the politics of war and demonstrating that conflicts are often inspired by secretive, behind-the-scenes maneuvering. From that standpoint it is a raving success.
Unfortunately, it also has basic problems. Directors Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer don’t build enough empathy for their characters, leaving viewers more disconnected than they should be. Also, Filo, conceived as a comic sidekick, is so manic that he’s simply annoying.
On the up side, “Delgo” has a strong voice cast — including Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Anne Bancroft and Val Kilmer — and it succeeds at its basic mission: transporting viewers to a different time and place.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, an audio commentary with the directors and several making-of features.
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, including some suggestive dialogue, some violence and thematic content
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director Steve Shill’s “Obsessed” is a reasonably entertaining — if unoriginal — thriller until the positives of his first two acts give way to a ridiculous finale.
Idris Elba stars as Derek Charles, a charismatic and successful businessman who has just moved into a new home with his beautiful wife, Sharon (Beyoncé Knowles). He’s living what appears to be the American dream until a sexy temp worker named Lisa (Ali Larter) starts coming onto him. Although Derek turns her down, Lisa becomes increasingly aggressive, eventually putting Derek’s family life and career in jeopardy.
Essentially, “Obsessed” is a low-rent version of “Fatal Attraction,” although Lisa’s motives are never as clear as those of the Glenn Close character of the latter film. The fact that Lisa is a conundrum hurts the movie, but that’s not the defining flaw. That honor goes to an over-the-top climax that sucks the life out of Shill’s respectable setup and a terrific lead performance by Elba.
DVD extras include three behind-the-scenes featurettes.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Mutant Chronicles”: Independent science fiction adventure about soldiers battling a mutant army threatening to destroy humanity. The movie is based on the Mutant Chronicles role-playing game and it stars Ron Perlman and Thomas Jane.
“Elvis — The Ed Sullivan Show:” DVD collecting Elvis Presley’s three appearances on Sullivan’s show. In all, there are 15 performances, including multiple versions of “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.
“Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters”: Interesting 1988 feature film built by combining vintage Warner Brothers shorts. The movie starts with Daffy Duck inheriting a fortune from a rich old man, only to be haunted by his ghost. So, Daffy starts a ghostbusting squad. The movie includes appearances by Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety.
“The Tigger Movie”: Tenth anniversary re-release of Disney’s animated film focused on the much-loved Winnie the Pooh character Tigger. In the film, Tigger feels like he’s not really part of the Pooh gang, so he goes searching for others of his kind.
“Love Boat” — Season Two, Volume Two: Four-disc set featuring 12 episodes of the classic 1970s and ’80s television series centered on the crew of a luxury cruise ship.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com