Johnson’s ‘Race’ has a HitFix connection

03.11.09 8 years ago

Walt Disney Studios

I’m going to let you in a little secret.  If and when you check out Dwayne Johnson’s reboot of “Race to Witch Mountain” this weekend, you’ll have the opportunity to witness a momentous occasion in the field of online media journalism.  No, Nikki Finke doesn’t turn out to be the laser totting villain chasing Johnson and actors AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig all over the desert southwest.  Instead, you’ll bear witness to the big screen “commercial” movie debut of both myself and HitFix’s own Drew McWeeny. 

Please, hold your applause.

Now, I’m sure you’ve all immediately gone to the HitFix Forecast to buy tickets, but in case you’ve stuck around here’s a quick lowdown.  Last summer, Disney was kind enough to invite both myself, Drew and the dynamic duo from IGN to not one, but three L.A. based set visits for “Mountain.”  During our first excursion, at the always beautiful Los Angeles Fairplex, we stood in for convention attendees in a scene where Johnson, looking for those pesky teenage aliens, races through the crowd.  At the time, I was writing my longtime column on MSN Movies and McWeeny was representing Ain’t It Cool.  Considering how spur of the moment it was, neither of us  ever thought the scene would make it into the movie.  Much to my surprise (or should the be horror?), not only is the shot in the movie, you can clearly see both McWeeny first and then myself mouthing, “What the…?” as Johnson races by us.  We’ll leave moviegoers to review our performances on Drew’s Motion Captured blog when the movie opens this Friday.

[Important note: the shot used in the movie was clearly not my best work.  That distinction would belong to the take where I no doubt mouthed a four letter word that will only be appropriate for the unrated director’s cut of the film (if that ever sees the light of day).]

Imagine my astonishment, however, when I showed up at a very intimate L.A. press day for Johnson a few weeks ago and my former onscreen colleague didn’t even acknowledge our past work together.  You’d think both McWeeny and I were just one of thousands of extras he’d run by during his short cinematic career.  In any event, quickly moving on from the brazen oversight, I asked Johnson a question regarding the said rating of the picture.  At the time of the set visits, it appeared Disney and director Andy Fickman were aiming for a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-like PG-13 rating.  Somewhere along the way, the studio decided to go for an even more family friendly and tamer PG.

“Andy wanted to infuse a lot of action with the comedy, and certainly with the fantasy element. He didn’t shoot it in a way that was ever restraining for us in any way. We shot it with all the action, with all the special effects, as if it were going to be a strong PG-13,” Johnson says.  “If we had to dial it back in editing, then he did. And it just so happens that we made the best version of that movie in a PG setting that we could. And we pushed the envelope in it quite a bit.”

Following up, I asked if there were any specific examples in the flick where harsher material was left on the editing floor.

“Yeah, sure. For example, like the final fight scene with myself and the Siphon. It was a very long, intricate fight scene,” Johnson recalls. “There was a lot happening in it and that was pared down considerably. And I’m sure in the DVD version, you’ll see the fight in its entirety.”

History suggests the Disney DVD might shy away from that deleted sequence, but we can always hope for the Hong Kong bootleg to make its way back to the states, can’t we?

“Mountain” reunites Johnson with Fickman after they first worked on the 2007 hit “The Game Plan.”  The tough guy knew Fickman’s action credentials would get scrutinized and says he made his buddy watch old Clint Eastwood movies for inspiration.

“There’s a streak to Andy that’s great, who really, really enjoys action movies and is pretty hardcore that way,” Johnson reveals. “So he was really excited to jump into this and sink his teeth into something that had a lot of action in it. He’s a very big Steve McQueen fan and Clint Eastwood fan. Though he doesn’t look like it, he is indeed a man of action! “

Fickman brought some action experts onto the film by hiring Scott Rogers, of the “Bourne” franchise, to assist on some of the film’s bigger stunts.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Fickman, Johnson ended up doing all of his own stunts.

“[Rogers] came onboard, put together these really great action sequences, car chase sequences. And much to Andy Fickman’s chagrin, I was able to do all the car stunts without him knowing,” Johnson says laughing. “Because [it was] second unit.  That’s how he didn’t know that I was in the car.”

“Race to Witch Mountain” opens nationwide this Friday.

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