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Careful What You Wish For

D: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum / 91m

Cast: Nick Jonas, Isabel Lucas, Paul Sorvino, Dermot Mulroney, Graham Rogers, Kandyse McClure, Leon Pridgen, Kiki Harris, David Sherrill, Kevin L. Johnson

Doug Martin (Jonas), along with his mother and father (Harris, Sherrill), live in the small town of Lake Lure. During the summer, Doug works at a local bar with his best friend, Carson (Rogers). Carson’s aim is to find Doug a girl (or girls) he can make out with, but Doug hasn’t had much success with girls in the past, plus he also finds Carson’s approach too desperate, not to mention off-putting. Focusing on his work, Doug’s rather staid life is thrown for a loop when new neighbours move on next door. Elliott Harper (Mulroney) is a self-made millionaire with a trophy wife, Lena (Lucas). Doug is instantly attracted to Lena but keeps his distance, watching her when he can. Lena notices him but appears unperturbed by his behaviour.

One day, Doug is in his room when he hears a cry from the road outside. He rushes out and finds Lena standing beside her car, scared of something inside. It turns out to be a spider; Doug gets rid of it and Lena thanks him. Later that night, he finds Lena waiting outside his home, sheltering from the rain having locked herself out. She persuades him to help her get back in by breaking a basement window. In the Harpers’ kitchen, Lena seduces Doug and they have sex several times during the night. The next morning, Lena tells Doug that he can’t tell anyone about what they’ve done in case Elliott finds out.

At the same time that he and Lena take every opportunity to be together, Elliott employs Doug to help him renovate a sail boat he’s recently purchased. One day, the three of them go out on the boat and Doug sees bruising on Lena’s face. A succession of minor injuries culminates in Lena calling Doug from the hospital to come get her. Now completely afraid, Lena gives Doug an untraceable mobile phone so they can be in contact with each other. A little while later, Lena texts Doug saying she’s done something terrible. When he goes with her to her home, he finds she’s killed Elliott by smashing his head in with a fire extinguisher.

Convincing Doug that the police won’t believe it was a case of her defending herself, Lena lets him come up with the solution: to take Elliott’s body out on his boat, make it look like the head trauma happened there, and then set fire to the boat. But when Elliott’s remains are discovered, and it becomes clear that Lena stands to inherit ten million dollars from her husband’s death, the arrival of an insurance investigator, Angie Alvarez (McClure), begins to make life very uncomfortable for both of them.

Nick Jonas in Careful What You Wish For

If you’ve read the above synopsis, then by now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “The wife’s up to no good” or “”It’s all a big frame up”, or even “Jesus, are they still making these kind of movies?” The correct response to all three suppositions is “Yes”, but the most important thought you could possibly have about Careful What You Wish For is: “Why am I watching this in the first place?”

Sadly for the efforts of all involved, the choice of title and tagline lend themselves far too easily to rejoinders such as “Careful what you wish for – you might get it”, or “His second mistake was reading the script”, or some such variation. It’s not that the movie is bad – which it is – it’s that this is a movie that doesn’t have one original idea to offer, and throws in one of the most badly handled “twists” in recent memory, all in service to a plot that was probably old before the movies were invented, and which has been done to death ever since. The question then becomes, not why is this movie so bad, but why was this movie made in the first place?

It’s hard to believe that the makers of Careful What You Wish For thought that their movie could be successful given it’s a rehash of a story told so often before that as soon as Lena makes her first appearance – the now hackneyed shot of a tanned, sandalled foot as its owner gets out of an expensive car – the rest of the movie falls into place, ticking all the required boxes and ending up like the cinematic version of predictive text. What doesn’t help is that everything is so deliberately signposted, it wouldn’t be too unfair to say that a blind person could see what was going to happen.

So with a screenplay by Chris Frisina that doesn’t allow the viewer to be anywhere near one step ahead, it’s left to Rosenbaum’s patchy direction (one minute she’s interested in what’s going on, the next she’s busy draining the tension out of the whole movie), and the performances of Jonas and Lucas to rescue things. But neither of them are up to the task. Jonas (yes, he is one third of the Jonas Brothers) is clearly trying to step up from being a teen heartthrob and gain some credibility as a serious actor. However, he’s got some way to go, particularly in scenes that require some degree of confrontation where he just looks uncomfortable (and the movie takes every opportunity for him to be shirtless or flashing his behind). Worse though is Lucas, whose wooden performance is, in places, simply embarrassing.

With only some pretty visuals and the performance of Sorvino to recommend it, the movie is further encumbered with a score by Josh Debney and the Newton Brothers that’s allowed to overwhelm certain stretches of dialogue, and which isn’t even that rewarding to listen to. Rogier Stoffers’ photography is proficient but bland, and the pace is often too slow for the thriller elements to have the proper effect. All in all, this is the kind of movie that’s been done better elsewhere, but not quite as poorly as it’s been made here.

Rating: 3/10 – dreary and hopelessly obvious, Careful What You Wish For is a movie that doesn’t seem to want to impress anyone at all, and which remains unconvincing throughout; if an hour and a half of tedium is what you’re looking for, then step right up – but don’t say you weren’t warned.