[Screen It]


(2017) (Joey King, Ki Hong Lee) (PG-13)

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Horror: A teenager is given an ancient Chinese music box that grants its owner seven wishes, but with a grisly price to pay for each.
It's been twelve years since her mother committed suicide, and 17-year-old Clare Shannon (JOEY KING) is still affected by that loss, what with living in a rundown house with her father, Jonathan (RYAN PHILLIPPE), who tries to make ends meet -- with the help of his friend, Carl Morris (KEVIN HANCHARD) -- going through dumpsters and discarded possessions in hopes of salvaging something of worth. That's something that embarrasses Clare and only serves as extra fodder for school bullies such as Darcie Chapman (JOSEPHINE LANGFORD) and her clique to make fun of the teen. At least she has good friends in Meredith McNeil (SYDNEY PARK) and June Acosta (SHANNON PURSER), but she realizes she has no chance of ever attracting a boy like Paul Middlebrook (MITCHELL SLAGGERT) on whom she has a secret crush.

Things change when Clare's dad gives her an ancient Chinese music box that can't be opened, but contains language on the outside about granting whoever possesses it seven wishes. Clare doesn't pay that much heed, but after a few of her offhand wishes come true, she realizes she needs more info and thus turns to classmate Ryan Hui (KI HONG LEE) and then his cousin for help in translating the other writing on the box.

Initially unbeknownst to them, however, each wish is accompanied by a "blood price" that affects someone else not directly tied to the latest wish. Once she realizes that, Clare must decide what to do, especially when her and her father's newfound happiness could be at stake.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Way back when we'd watch "I Dream of Jeannie" and especially any movie or TV show featured a lamp, genie, and their three wishes, I always marveled at the fact that no one had the common sense to make one of those wishes be for unlimited wishes or simply more such genie-filled lamps in order to keep the three wish string going.

Eventually, Hollywood got wind of my criticism -- and perhaps that of one or two other such like-minded people -- and had such wish-givers deliver the exclusionary disclaimer that such wishes could not be for any additional ones beyond the original set.

In the horror film "Wish Upon," the person with the wishes -- that being 17-year-old Clare (Joey King) -- doesn't have to worry about only having three, which is a good thing since she probably has a high "wanna have" cue, what with her mom having hung herself in front of the girl back when she was just five; a dad (Ryan Phillippe) who tries to make ends meet dumpster diving for salvage junk; a hunky classmate (Mitchell Slaggert) she'd like to date; and a passel of bullies -- led by a mean girl (Josephine Langford) -- who she'd love to have disappear.

Fortunately for her, the ancient Chinese music box her father found and has given to her comes with seven wishes, although the attached rules (written in ancient Chinese) are hazy at first, as is her belief that the thing is real. Unfortunately for her, one of those is that each wish comes with a "blood price" where something bad will happen once the wish has been granted.

I suppose something scary could have been done with this premise, but director John R. Leonetti and screenwriter Barbara Marshall instead opt to go after the sort of gruesome funhouse frights that fueled those "Final Destination" films a number of years back. Thus, once a wish is completed, we know something bad is going to happen (just as it did in those "FD" flicks when someone managed to cheat Death the first time around), with the storytellers goosing us with various potential gotcha moments.

Those range from standing on a metal fire escape during a thunderstorm to crawling under a jacked up car and being in an elevator that could slip at any moment. The latter isn't anywhere as "edge of your seat" effective as something similar in the recent "Spider-Man" flick, but as intercut with the tire changing scene at least it will have audiences guessing about which of the two would-be victims is going to buy the farm.

The most effective, however, involves a woman, a boiling pot on the stove, something stuck in the garbage disposal, and perhaps the worst placement ever for the switch that controls that device and its finger grinding potential. The less said about that, the better, but at least that particular moment gets it right for that particular type of horror all involved are after.

It's too bad the rest of the film can't keep up with that sequence, or that it doesn't really deliver any other sort of chills and thrills, or for that matter any sort of imagination in terms of the protagonist trying to get herself out of her particular plot pickle. It doesn't help, however, that the dialogue is often stilted or that King's performance goes from rote to sometimes cringe-worthy bad, which sort of parallels the film in general.

In the end, I had two wishes of my own while watching the story unfold over just around ninety minutes. One was that it would be over already and the second was that if the first couldn't be granted, at least what was offered could have been better. Alas, Barbara Eden's Jeannie was nowhere to be found, neither came true and thus "Wish Upon" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed July 10, 2017 / Posted July 14, 2017

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