“This guy looks like he’d hit a child”
The real mystery is how Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum‘s Careful What You Wish For got itself a theatrical release in the first place—no matter how limited. I’m not surprised Starz Digital is handling distribution, though, since it feels exactly like a late night pay cable ticket sanitized to an R-rating for lustful eroticism rather than actual chemistry, nudity, or plausibility. Sometimes thrillers of the “youthful stalker hits the sexual jackpot” variety can at least be entertaining in an ironic way, but that’s unfortunately not the case here. In fact, Chris Frisina‘s script is smart enough with its inevitable murder and ensuing insurance case to make us believe the film was produced with dramatic eyes and artistic hope. Alas, it ultimately falls short. But you knew it probably would.
All the earmarks for this subgenre of trashy romance are present from the get-go. First you have the star: a Columbia-bound, engineering savant named Doug Martin (Nick Jonas) bussing tables at his parent’s summer home retreat’s local watering hole. He’s shy, as math nerdy as Nick Jonas can pretend to be, and a virgin—the perfect fodder for a secretive tryst with an out-of-his-league object of affection. Second is said object: an affluent, seemingly aloof housewife named Lena Harper (Isabel Lucas) for whom Rosenbaum takes pains ensuring that she sees young Dougie spying on her from his window. She’s the trophy wife of number three: Elliot (Dermot Mulroney), the violently drunk husband away on business three weeks of every month. Let’s put them together and watch what happens.
Mulroney is by far the best part of this romp because he embraces the C-movie sensibilities of his character’s fate. The dialogue as written for him consists of blatant innuendo to trip up Dougie into thinking he wants the boy to sleep with his wife, cold stares of an I-don’t-want-to-be-bothered-by-your-disrespectful-nonsense finished off by a smirk of I’m-better-than-you attitude, and verbal abuse of the sort that even he doesn’t believe the “tough love” justification spun to dismiss it. He’s the type of man you can see intimidating someone twice his size; a man you fear will do terrible things to both his wife and her lover if he ever finds out. So what does Dougie do? Turns off that brain, turns up his libido, and does stupid things.
The next best part is Paul Sorvino, a man whose IMDB page is so prolific this past decade that I cannot comprehend how Repo! The Genetic Opera was the last time I’ve seen him onscreen. Sorvino plays the amiable sheriff Big Jack with a Jimmy Buffett aura leading him to sing onstage and cancel parking tickets if the offending perpetrator agrees to buy a round for the house. He’s friendly with Doug’s parents (David Sherrill‘s Brian and Kiki Harris‘ Emily) and worries about how the city element this Harper couple exudes is infiltrating his sleepy town built for rest and relaxation. He can’t sweep every crime under the rug, though. So when Elliot turns up dead (What?!), there’s no stopping adjuster Angie Alvarez (Kandyse McClure) from poking around.
I won’t say how he dies or how he’s found, but you can guess if I mention a five million dollar life insurance policy that matures if the victim’s spouse could handle his abuse for three years. It plays out exactly as you’re thinking except with the impressive realization that there are few holes in the ordeal’s nuts and bolts (beyond real world plausibility). Every new wrinkle nicely conjures the exact moment this soon-to-be steel-trap of a frame job orchestrated it. Frisina becomes too cute by the end, but you can’t blame him since he does set up the a-ha moment early on. I actually wanted to applaud the aftermath’s over-the-top absurdity until he gets glib about hot sex being worth jail time. No, it’s not.
Lucas is fine as the femme fatale, turning on the waterworks when necessary and literally taking off her clothes when realizing subtlety is lost on Dougie’s sex-craved but inexperienced mind. Love is in the air, though, as his stalking turns into her stalking and Boom! Dead body. The theatricality of her performance is perfectly suited to the material—she doesn’t try to play it serious and doesn’t go over-board except when trying to turn her voyeur’s head. Jonas isn’t horrible either. I didn’t know what to expect having a cursory knowledge of his Disney Channel upbringing and as of yet not having watched “Kingdom” which I hear is good. He’s a bit stilted but it works since he’s the shy goody two-shoes opposite BFF Carson’s (Graham Rogers) idiocy.
No one is watching Careful What You Wish For for characters or performances, though, so who cares? We watch for the fun coincidences of Dougie’s mother being a lawyer, Big Jack giving locals the benefit of the doubt, and Carson being a CSI fan from way back to get all serious by the end. We bask in Mulroney’s smarm, yawn at the no-core porn steam, and wonder how the not-so-innocent deserves-what’s-coming-for-him boy will escape his fate. But we don’t do any of these things in a movie theater. We do them from the comfort of our couches at 11:30pm on a Wednesday night when nothing better is going on. And we sure as hell don’t tell anyone we’re doing it. Or we plain don’t do it at all.