CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR (2016) review
written by: Chris Frisina
produced by: Ashok Amritraj, Michael A. Helfant, Robert L. Stein, Bradley Gallo & Kirk D’Amico
directed by: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum
rated: R (for some sexual content/nudity and language)
runtime: 91 min.
U.S. release date: June 10, 2016 (limited theaters/VOD/Amazon/iTunes)
Just so you know, I’m giving the tepid “Careful What You Wish For”, a wanna-be sexy teen noir featuring the debut of pop star Nick Jonas in a lead acting role, a generous star-rating below. There are two reasons for it – the surprising opportunity to see veteran actor Paul Sorvino sing and strum a guitar to a bluegrass ditty (with a little piano tinkering later on) backed by a Country Bear Jamboree type band and the choice innuendo-laden lines Dermot Mulroney drops on his naive young co-star. I’ve awarded a half star each for these two actors and everything else about the rest of this cheesy not-ready-for Skinamax thriller can easily be forgotten.
Jonas plays Doug, who arrives at a quaint North Carolina community with his parents (David Sherill and Kiki Harris), settling into their vacation home for the summer before he starts college. He takes a job working at a nearby restaurant at the nearby lake harbor where he reunites with his dude-bro friend, Carson (Graham Rogers) with the two excitedly anticipating bagging a bunch of babes for the summer. The even move a nasty looking mattress into an empty boat house in preparation for such fulfillment. Now it’s just a matter of meeting girls. That’s where the alluring Lena Harper (Isabel Lucas) moves in – literally, purchasing the lavish home next to Doug’s place with her cold and detached investment banker husband, Elliot Harper (Mulroney). Doug catches a peak at her form from his bedroom window as she leans longingly on her balcony – it’s all over from there.
Next thing he knows, Doug, who conveniently “knows a thing or two about sailboats”, is working Elliot rehab an old sailboat he just purchased. Of course, you just know that will bring the young hormone-raged lad within close proximity of the source of his virgin fantasies.
Soon enough, the two begin a secret affair (we can hardly call it love), filled with clandestine afternoon delights (including an eye-rolling Oreo cookies-in-bed scene, inspired by Michael Bay’s “Armageddon” animal crackers scene) and rain-soaked trists, unknown to his disappearing parents and her unsuspecting husband. While the inexperienced Doug hits a libido milestone, having popped his cherry with a hot babe who appears to be in an abusive marriage, it soon becomes clear that there’s more to Lena than meets Doug’s erotic fantasies and next thing he knows he’s being pinned for the murder of Elliot Harper.
As you can probably tell, there’s nothing wholly original or unique to Chris Frisina’s screenplay, which takes noir elements and tries to incorporate them into something safe for the crowed that’s outgrown the Disney Channel crowd. The movie feels like the type of predictable basic cable thriller you’d find late at night back in the 90s. The director, Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, had success with tween fare in the past with “Aquamarine” and “Ramona and Beezus”, both of which have received heavy rotation on cable. While this movie is not incompetently directed, there’s also nothing about it that stands out. If anything, there are some ridiculously wrong notes here.
One such hilariously wrong note is the first time the two uncharismatic leads lock lips and engage in full-on touchy-feely. This is where Rosenbaum chose to turn up the volume up on the music, making it feel even more like a pretentious attempt at softcore porn. There are other moments that feel wrongheaded, but many of them all point toward the poor casting choice of Jonas and Lucas in this movie. They’re just not interesting and kind of painful to watch.
Besides the by-the-numbers plot and lame twist involving a life insurance case manager (Kandyse McClure, Seventh Son”), the characters are basically a checklist of standard noir roles. There’s the requisite femme fatale and the poor sap whom she lures and the domineering husband who treats his wife like a trophy. Maybe this is for the same crowd who watched last year’s “The Boy Next Door”, but I’d point them directly to the likes of Out of the Past”, “Body Heat” or “Double Indemnity” instead.
I watched this out of slight curiosity, knowing full well it would play out like a weak and predictable cautionary tale for every teenage boy with chiseled abs. Also knowing full well its target audience: those who swoon over Nick Jonas’ sculpted man-body and the allure of Isabel Lucas (both of whom have resting vacant faces). I wanted to see what kind of acting chops Jonas, the former Disney kid and teen heart-throb, could bring to the screen though. I had only recently seen him in the college-hazing thriller “Goat” – which played at Sundance as well as the recent Chicago Critics Film Festival and will see some type of release come September. I didn’t think much of him in that supporting role, so I figured I’d see what he’d do with a lead role. Well, my opinion of him hasn’t changed much.
This is the kind of movie that feels like a fun vacation for all involved, except the viewers – that is, unless you’re a freak for Jonas. “Careful What You Wish For” wants to be a steamy thriller, but it comes across as little more than a wet dream for a targeted prepubescent audience. I’ll be careful not to wish this on anyone.