WISH UPON (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violent and Disturbing Images, Thematic Elements and Language

Directed by: John R. Leonetti

Written by: Barbara Marshall

Starring: Joey King, Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Ryan Phillippe, Elisabeth Rohm, Mitchell Slaggert, Shannon Purser & Kevin Hanchard

There’s something to be said for lowered expectations. For example, I’d heard nothing but horribly negative things about WISH UPON. When a friend asked me to go see this movie with him, it seemed like I was walking into a watered-down, teeny-bopper excuse for a horror flick that would give THE BYE BYE MAN competition as a contender for the position of 2017’s worst horror film. Surprisingly, this was not the case. WISH UPON is what would happen if you threw WISHMASTER, FINAL DESTINATION, and a GOOSEBUMPS episode into a blender. It’s undeniably cheesy and dumb, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t mildly entertained by this movie.

Clare Shannon (Joey King) is a high school outcast and constantly carries the mental scars of her mother’s suicide. One day, Clare’s dumpster-diving daddy (Ryan Phillippe) finds a weird Chinese music box and gives it to her as a gift. Clare soon discovers that this mysterious item is actually a wishing box and will grant her seven wishes. There’s always a downside in dealing with magical matters like wishes, meaning that the box will take a life (a blood sacrifice) for every wish granted…unbeknownst to Clare. Soon Clare’s life starts changing, her wishes take darkly ironic turns, and bodies pile up in chain-of-event death sequences (reminiscent of FINAL DESTINATION and THE OMEN).

WISH UPON’s plot has been executed many times before. Horror stories about grim wishes date back to early fairy tales, W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” children’s entertainment (like a GOOSEBUMPS book and its subsequent TV episode adaptation), and even the slasher genre (e.g. the WISHMASTER franchise). My point is that before WISH UPON even starts, you’ll likely be able to correctly guess how this entire film plays out. However, this morbid morality tale is decently entertaining in a dumb way and might serve as a nice gateway horror flick for teenagers (who will likely stick it in during a sleepover or a party or whatever young hooligans do these days for amusement). For all of its predictability, WISH UPON doesn’t over stay its welcome at a fast-paced 90-minute running time.

There are only two big notable performances to speak of. Joey King (who’s mostly been regulated to supporting parts in blockbusters and indie flicks) does a pretty good job in the role of Clare. King gives this angsty teenage girl a believable existence and has the viewer borderline sympathizing with her frame of mind, while also playing a very flawed character who might learn a valuable lesson from this whole supernatural experience…if it doesn’t ruin her life first. Surprisingly, Ryan Phillippe puts in the only other noteworthy performance as Clare’s dad. Phillippe also has a genuinely good scene in which he discusses his wife’s haunting suicide with his daughter. As far as the supporting characters go, they are one-dimensional teenage stereotypes and walking plot devices. In other words, you probably won’t miss anybody who dies in a horrible way.

Speaking of which, WISH UPON’s death scenes are a bit scattershot. Some of the kills are surprisingly graphic for a PG-13, while others are downright comical. The former mainly belongs to two unexpectedly gory bits (shown in snippets) and a sequence that lets the audience guess who’s going to die next (in a way that echoes the better suspenseful moments of the FINAL DESTINATION series). The latter comes in the rest of the body count, some of which are mind-bogglingly ridiculous. The way that these rooms, certain furniture, and an ill-placed garbage disposal switch are set up seem to be constructed specifically so that people die in stupid ways. The two silliest deaths have already been revealed in the film’s trailer (the garbage disposal scene is stupid and hilarious). It’s also worth noting that I really liked this film’s conclusion, but I won’t get into that because of obvious spoilers.

WISH UPON is like a darker, more violent episode of GOOSEBUMPS or ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?. I don’t necessarily mean that as a completely negative thing either, because there’s fun to be had in that stuff. This film is far more unintentionally campy than it is creepy, but I still found enjoyment in its sillier moments and a few legitimately well-executed scenes. I don’t think this film deserves the amount of hatred it has received from critics and audiences thus far, because I can think of loads of other recent theatrical horror releases (both with PG-13 and R ratings that are far worse than this film). WISH UPON joins the ranks of horror flicks that loads of people hate, but I somehow enjoy (alongside THEY and APOLLO 18). Take that as you will.

Grade: C+

MACGRUBER (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude and Sexual Content, Violence, Language and some Nudity

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Directed by: Jorma Taccone

Written by: Jorma Taccone, Will Forte, John Solomon

Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Powers Boothe, Val Kilmer, Maya Rudolph

Back in the golden age of parody films, Mel Brooks and Jerry Zucker were the ones to beat. Spoofs weren’t pathetic threads that pieced together out of pop-culture jokes and referenced every recent movie that could possibly be worked in. These films were downright hilarious comedies that simultaneously made fun of certain genre conventions while also being careful in constructing their own story (as familiar as they might seem). AIRPLANE, the HOT SHOTS series, the NAKED GUN trilogy and SPACEBALLS aren’t just products of their time. They are films that would wind up holding up and still be funny decades later. It really is a shame that MACGRUBER didn’t do well at the box office, because this is the kind of parody that has long been thought dead. This feature adaptation of the Saturday Night Live skit is juvenile and crass, but it’s also hilarious from start to finish!

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A nuclear warhead has been stolen by vicious terrorist Dieter Von Cunth. Upon hearing the news, one man is contacted. One hero will emerge. This mysterious mullet-sporting man is known only as MacGruber and has a personal vendetta against Cunth. He’ll recruit a special team of operatives that include the young impressionable Piper and an old flame from his past, Vicki. Together they’ll have to put a stop to Cunth, who’s become a seemingly untouchable businessman, in order to save the world. Unfortunately, MacGruber is a loose-cannon, foul-mouthed, moron that constantly screws up in the face of danger. A whole lot of hilarity follows. Seriously, this movie had me (among all the other people I’ve wound up showing it to) cracking up from the opening shot until the credits sequence! MACGRUBER is the definition of an unsung gem!

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Besides the brief references to the TV series MACGYVER (seen in MacGruber’s penchant for using homemade contraptions instead of guns and the fact that MacGruber’s name is a parody of MacGyver to begin with), this is a comedy that plays with the conventions of action movies themselves while being as totally ridiculous, over-the-top, and offensive as humanly possible. The material won’t win any awards, but it’s absolutely hysterical and that’s what a comedy of this kind should be aiming for. When I say that the laughs are non-stop, I’m not exaggerating either. You might be laughing so hard at one joke that you’ll either have to pause it to catch your breath or re-watch it to catch another comment or detail that you missed.

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MACGRUBER is one of the few recent comedies where I’ve laughed so hard that my face hurt (and done so on multiple viewings)! The pace is extremely well done as well, never leaving time for the movie to drag or focusing too long on one of the very few gags that falls flat. This is one of those rare cases for a comedy that I’d recommend watching the Unrated version (it’s only 4 minutes longer) because the moments thrown back in are hilarious as well. As briefly mentioned, there are a couple of jokes that aren’t very funny. These come from an awkward Kristen Wiig, who serves as a hit-and-miss character here, but everyone else is overshadowing her in nearly every scene. Wiig is usually great in comedies, but here she has some successful moments and doesn’t quite hit the mark with others.

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As far as the rest of the cast goes, everyone is clearly having a blast. Val Kilmer as Dieter Von Cunth is the best Kilmer performance in a solid decade. He’s a great hammy villain that seems to be incorporating all of the evil traits from every memorable action movie bad guy. Thus he offers a clear-headed menacing straight man for the hysterical force that is Will Forte as MacGruber. Forte has been seen in side roles in plenty of big comedies and most of his front-man performances haven’t been quite so good (e.g. THE BROTHERS SOLOMON), but he makes the movie work here. Working as a co-writer on the screenplay and portraying the mullet-sporting action hero himself, Forte knew exactly how scenes should play out!

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MACGRUBER is a barrage of non-stop laughs. It’s devoid of class or intelligence, but that’s simply not the kind of comedy this was meant to be from the beginning. Filled with jokes from beginning to end (one running gag kept getting incorporated in ways that had me giggling every time I saw it), this fast-paced action movie parody is crude, crass, rude, gross, and (at points) downright cruel, but it’s all in the name of hilarity. It fully delivers on that mark. There are a couple of moments that aren’t nearly as funny as the rest surrounding them, but that’s the case with nearly every comedy. In an age of lame excuses for spoofs and parodies, MACGRUBER offers a beacon of hope that these kind of films can still be nearly perfected with the right people behind them. This is an underrated, overlooked comedy that deserves a large cult following. If you want to laugh, then absolutely dive right into MACGRUBER!

Grade: A-

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