A teen discovers a magical Chinese Wish Pot, makes a few wishes and is slow to grasp or accept responsibility for the consequences of her actions in “Wish Upon.”
Yeah, that’s a worn plot device and the movie has the same theme as a thousand and one morality tales, starting with Aladdin and taking in assorted “Twilight Zone” episodes, plus films like “The Box” and “The Brass Teapot.”
The twist here is that, since it’s set in high school, the pot can be used to punish mean girls, lure the boy you’re crushing on and bling up your life without credit cards. And the high school stuff, at least, is nasty-tasty fun. The rest? A mildly unpleasant shrug of a movie.
Joey King, of “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Going in Style,” is Clare, our pouty, put-upon heroine. We root for her because in the opening scene, we see the five year-old Clare park her training-wheeled pink bike, run upstairs and witness her mother’s suicide.
Years later, that bike is still lying in the grass where she left it. Life goes on, with her dumpster-diving junkman dad (Ryan Phillippe) adding to their unkempt hoard and Clare enduring the ceaseless teasing of the mean girls (Josephine Langford, Daniela Barbosa) and their cell-photo-shaming gay mean boy accomplice (Alexander Nunez).
The balance of power between Clare and her outcast pals (Sydney Park, Shannon Purser) and Team Mean changes the day her dad brings home a clockwork six-sided music box with Chinese inscriptions all over it. A random wish “I wish Darcie Chapman (Langford) would just ROT” comes true.
But it’s not until Clare has made other wishes that come true, followed by dark fates for friends, relatives and others, that she turns to the Chinese nerd boy (Ki Hong Lee) who harbors a not-so-secret love for her, and they figure out what she’s got.
For every one of the seven wishes she’s in store for, there are seven ugly repercussions — death dealt with wildly varying degrees of skill and little suspense by cinematographer turned director John J. Leonetti (“Annabelle”). Most of the “repercussions” fritter away the chills and eyes-averting horrors to come, although a couple almost pay off.
The big idea such stories all boil down to is “What would you be willing to subject others to in order to get what you want?” Leonetti and screenwriter Barbara Marshall pretty much botch that, too, and King doesn’t do well at playing “moral dilemma.”
The Chinese subject matter and characters suggest this one was built for a lucrative foreign market, one in particular.
What works here is the gothic nightmare of a modern American high school — filled with rude, cruel and even violent kids, all of whom want to look like Taylor Swift, their queen.
King makes a gawky, accessible girl-next-door, the short, dark girl the class dreamboat would never notice. Her scenes with sassy BFF Meredith (Park) have some snap.
“I think he said ‘Hi’ to me once…”
“Well, that’s something!”
“…in the FIFTH grade!”
But once the magic box, its allure and its consequences take over, the run-of-the-mill “Wish Upon” loses its promise and its footing, like a character about to tumble into a randomly-placed set of cow horns. Ahem.
Maybe it’ll feel smarter and tighter once it’s dubbed into Chinese.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language
Cast: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Sydney Park, Ki Hong Lee, Josephine Langford, Alice Lee
Credits:Directed by John R. Leonetti, script by Barbara Marshall. A — release.
Running time: 1:24