“Wish Upon” cast is good, but tale is not

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Sandie Agnula Chen Broad Green Pic­tures

★¼55 Fan­tasy/ thriller. PG-13. 87 min­utes.

“Wish Upon” re­vives the Ori­en­tal­ist mys­ti­cism at the heart of the teen­friendly “Grem­lins” — an enig­matic Asian ar­ti­fact leads to may­hem and mur­der — but it’s nowhere as en­ter­tain­ing as the 1984 hor­ror clas­sic.

The movie opens, omi­nously, with a melan­choly sub­ur­ban mom (Elis­a­beth Röhm) plac­ing a can­vaswrapped item in the trash as her young daugh­ter tools around the block on her bike. Mo­ments later, the girl re­turns home to dis­cover that her mother has hanged her­self in the at­tic.

Twelve years later, that girl, Clare (Joey King), is a bul­lied high-schooler em­bar­rassed by her wid­owed, pack-rat dad, Jonathan (Ryan Philippe, with lit­tle to do ex­cept look con­cerned), who scav­enges dump­sters for junk to sell.

Jonathan’s rum­mag­ing turns up an in­tri­cately carved box cov­ered with Chi­nese char­ac­ters. He gives it to Clare, who has learned enough Chi­nese at school to read part of the box’s in­scrip­tion: It grants seven wishes. Fresh from a pub­lic fight with the school’s queen bee, Dar­cie (Josephine Lang­ford), Clare makes a child­ishly mean-spir­ited wish: “I wish Dar­cie would just go rot.” The box even­tu­ally opens, plays a creepy melody and closes. The next morn­ing, Dar­cie wakes up with necro­tiz­ing fasci­itis con­sum­ing her body.

News of Dar­cie’s black­ened flesh leads Clare to sus­pect that her Chi­nese

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The Lit­tle Hours Rated PG ★★55 Re­viewed on 4C Moka ★★¼5 Un­rated Re­viewed on 4C War for the Planet of the Apes Rated PG-13 ★★★★ Re­viewed on 1C Wish Upon Rated PG-13 ★¼55 Re­viewed on this page mu­sic box might have real power, so she pro­ceeds to wish for what many teens de­sire: love (granted, from the cutest boy in school); wealth (granted, from a re­cently de­ceased rel­a­tive’s es­tate); and for dad to stop be­ing “so em­bar­rass­ing.” Now dat­ing a beau­ti­ful boyfriend, rich and en­ter­tained by a fa­ther who plays smooth-jazz sax — which some­how qual­i­fies as not em­bar­rass­ing — Clare is fi­nally the most pop­u­lar girl in school. (Yes, that’s an­other one of her wishes).

What Clare fails to un­der­stand is that her wishes aren’t free, even after she is con­fronted by a class­mate (the charm­ing Ki Hong Lee, from “The Maze Run­ner”) whose cousin has man­aged to trans­late more of the in­scrip­tion. A de­mon in­side the mu­sic box, it seems, de­mands a “blood price” for each wish and has be­gun ex­act­ing it from those around Clare. You’d think a girl with so much death sur­round­ing her would im­me­di­ately dump the box. But she in­ex­pli­ca­bly dou­bles down, fig­ur­ing that if she al­ready feels guilty for the calami­ties the box has caused, why should she go back to be­ing poor and mis­er­able?

Work­ing from a lack­lus­ter script by Bar­bara Mar­shall (“Vi­ral”), di­rec­tor John R. Leonetti tar­gets a younger au­di­ence than with his R-rated “Annabelle,” in what amounts to an un­sat­is­fy­ing com­bi­na­tion of “Fi­nal Des­ti­na­tion” and “The Box.” Be­yond mid­dle-school­ers, it’s un­clear who would en­joy this de­riv­a­tive, cliche-filled ex­er­cise in hor­ror lite.

For all its flaws, “Wish Upon” at least passes the Bechdel Test (a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion in a movie aimed at teen girls). Clare’s two truth-telling best friends, June and Mered­ith (Shan­non Purser and Syd­ney Park), are the best things about the film. Park is par­tic­u­larly no­table for her per­for­mance as a snarky gamer who doesn’t put up with Clare’s non­sense.

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