'Careful What You Wish For': Film Review

Courtesy of Starz Digital
A limp teen-targeting noir.
6/10/2016

Nick Jonas ill-advisedly falls for a rich neighbor's wife.

Of the many good reasons Hollywood should hire more women to direct movies, there's this: If one of every two or three releases were made by a woman, few observers would have the impulse to cry foul when one of them projected a vision of women as insultingly dim as Careful What You Wish For does. We could just say "what a crappy movie" and move on, not feeling this was a squandered opportunity in the long struggle for equality.

Odds are, few who pay to see Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum's film will be thinking about such things. They'll be wanting to see Nick Jonas take his shirt off, lose his virginity and struggle to escape the trouble that results. And they'll get what they're paying for: a mildly naughty femme-fatale potboiler for the Disney Channel generation.

Jonas is, it should be said, the most likeable thing about this watered-down noir, a good-natured everydude who, even at his worst, at least deludes himself into thinking he's doing the right thing. His Doug is a high school kid who moves with his parents to North Carolina's Lake Lure for the summer. Here he will bus tables alongside horndog buddy Carson (Graham Rogers) while trying to shrug off his shallow talk of getting laid; neither knows it, but Doug's going to do a whole lot more of that than Carson.

A rich couple moves in next door to Doug's family. Elliot Harper (Dermot Mulroney) is a self-made jerk with an endless list of hobbies and a dominating personality. Lena Harper (Isabel Lucas) is a wide-brimmed hat and diaphanous white dress with a streak of red lipstick in between. Wait, that's not fair: The hat also has long blonde tresses.

In the movies that paved the road for Careful, actresses from Barbara Stanwyck to Kathleen Turner to Linda Fiorentino ensured that any generic signifiers of allure accompanying them onscreen were backed up by undeniable charisma. Let's be gentle and say that Lucas does not demonstrate a similar appeal. To be fair, she doesn't have Billy Wilder or Lawrence Kasdan writing her dialogue: Screenwriter Chris Frisina, who has spent most of his career producing reality TV, doesn't give her a single line worth reading.

Frisina stockpiles what wit he has for Mulroney's character. Doug is hired by Mr. Harper to work on a boat he has bought, putting the kid into daily contact with the rich man's sunbathing wife. "Whaddaya say we tag-team her?," Elliot asks. He means they should work on the engine together, but flustered, virginal Dougie can barely stammer out a response.

Lena soon befriends Doug and, in a surprisingly unsexy scene, makes that virginity a thing of the past. Having heard Elliot berate her, Doug can believe their marriage is ending; when she claims he is beating her, Doug starts to entertain an escape fantasy.

We all know where this is going, but Careful is none too clever getting there. A bad thing happens, and fingers start to point in Doug's direction. Will the town's good-ol'-boy sheriff (Paul Sorvino) be able to outmaneuver the pushy insurance lady (Kandyse McClure) and keep Doug from taking the fall? Will Carson's head explode when he learns that 'lil Dougie has been having hot-chick sex all summer? Will Rosenbaum and Frisina claim they're being subversive with a last-minute twist that makes older viewers yearn for the unabashed, hardworking sleaze of 1998's Wild Things?

 

Production company: Troika Pictures

Distributor: Starz

Cast: Nick Jonas, Isabel Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Graham Rogers, Paul Sorvino, Kandyse McClure

Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

Screenwriter: Chris Frisina

Producers: Ashok Amritraj, Kirk D'Amico, Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Robert Stein

Executive producers: Stuart Brown, Kevin Scott Frakes, Chris Frisina, William Gallo II, Manu Gargi, Dale Rosenbloom, Raj Brinder Singh

Director of photography: Rogier Stoffers

Costume designer: Joann Land

Editors: Geofrey Hildrew, Padriac McKinley

Composers: Josh Debney, The Newton Brothers

Casting director: Orly Sitowitz

R, 91 minutes

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