Wednesday, September 1, 2010


When a movie is best known for its cameo roles, you know you're in for a "treat."  A big, steaming pile of "treat."  Do you know anything about djinn or genies?  If you answered "no," then you are qualified to be this movie's screenwriter.  If you answered "yes," then take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  It's going to get worse before it gets better.

Back in the 1100s, Zoroaster (for whom Zoroastrianism is named) is a court sorcerer whose king has a wish-granting djinn (Andrew Divoff).  The king's not very bright, though, so all his wishes turn out disastrously.  Zoroaster captures the djinn within a gem, somehow (I'm guessing cutting-edge science), and reveals that the djinn wants to grant three wishes; after the third wish, the djinn will open the door between dimensions and the evil race of djinn will rule the earth.  First off, my understanding of Zoroastrianism is that their djinn were disease-spreading lady genies, not evil world-ending bad guys.  I'm not a Zoroastrian, though, so I might have misunderstood and there's some grey area that I'm missing.  Or maybe my casual knowledge of an ancient religion is greater than that of a paid screenwriter.  Secondly, how does anyone know about this end of the world plan?  Do djinn have loose lips?  And how hard is it to give someone three wishes?  You know what would work better, instead of having their first two wishes go terribly wrong?  Having them go right, so they aren't afraid to wish.  Djinn: the stupidest of all God's creatures.

That scene takes up maybe five minutes, but it's fairly representational of the movie as a whole: confusion, frustration, and pain.  Flash-forward to the late 90s, where an ancient statue is being lifted off a boat by a crane.  The crane operator is drunk, so the statue falls and breaks.  Oh, and it squishes someone.  One of the dock workers notices a gem in the statue's wreckage.  Why...could that be the djinn's gem?  Sure, why not?  The dude pawns it, and the pawn shop guy takes it to an auction house.  The auction house gives it to Alexandra (Tammy Lauren) to estimate its value.  While examining the gem, she thinks she sees something, but can't get a handle on what.  Alexandra takes the gem to her friend/love-interest Josh (Tony Crane), who can use lasers and whatnot to get more detailed information on the gem.  Josh plans to work on the gem in the morning, but Alexandra convinces him to do it that night.  He does.  The gem explodes, releasing the djinn and wrecking the lab.  Writhing in pain on the ground, Josh is approached by the djinn, who asks if Josh wished that the pain would stop.  He does.  The djinn grants his wish.  That's basically how all the djinn's encounters go from this point on:
Innocent Person: I am apparently a small nuisance to the djinn.
Djinn: Do you wish _____?
Innocent Person: Well, yeah.  That's an inane, only half-serious wish that everyone shares.
Djinn: MWA HA HA!  (Wish is granted in a fatal way for the innocent)
Alexandra learns about the explosion and says, "I think the thing I gave him might have killed him.  Do you know how crazy that sounds?"  Actually, no.  You gave him something and asked him to work on it in the lab that night, and he died in the lab that night.  I'd say that the odds are in your favor.  Oh, and do you realize what you said implies that you gave him a nasty STD?  Gross!  Eventually, the djinn steals the face of a corpse and assumes a human appearance.  Okay, fine.  But the face he steals is heavily pockmarked.  I get that it's the face of the actor that has been heavily made up to this point, but who steals a pockmarked face?  It's like if I really, really needed some pants so people don't stare at the guy with no pants, and I choose assless chaps.  Yes, it's a choice, but it's probably not the best one available.

Because this is a horror movie, the dumb girl (Alexandra) needs to be chased by the monster (the djinn), right?  Right.  But why?  That's where the genius of this screenwriter comes in.  You see, the djinn is granting wishes in exchange for the person's soul, which is why you have to read the fine print on anything you agree to.  Why does a djinn need souls?  To power up his gem.  Yeah, I thought it exploded in the lab, too.  Guess not.  Once the gem is powered up, the djinn needs to grant three wishes to the person who woke him up, which is somehow Alexandra and not the late Josh.  Once the three wishes are granted, he can unleash the djinn into this world.  Why does he want to do that?  Well, according to an expert, "djinn are the face of fear itself."  Oh.  Right.

In a movie like this, it is probably better to not focus on the acting and directing.  Robert Kurtzman is not a good director, Peter Atkins is not a good writer, and Andrew Divoff, Tammy Lauren, and Tony Crane are not good actors.  The special effects are unimpressive, too.  This movie does, however, have a lot of cameos from horror movie icons.  Angus Scrimm (from Phantasm) reads the opening monologue.  Robert Englund plays a small supporting role and, shockingly, is not evil.  Ted Raimi is the guy who gets squished into meat jelly by the falling statue.  Kane Hodder and Tony Todd both get killed by the djinn.  Whenever one of these guys made an appearance, I cheered up.  They might not be major characters in this movie, but their presence signifies that something cool is about to happen.  Well, at least something that should have been cool is going to happen, anyway.

Wishmaster is the sort of movie that simultaneously bores, underwhelms, and confuses viewers.  It's boring because the script is wretched, the pace is slow, and the characters are unsympathetic.  It's underwhelming because the deaths, while fairly creative, aren't very cool and are often just odd.  It's confusing because the explanations given for djinns are don't jive with common knowledge.  It's like they made Saint Peter into a brain-eating zombie gargoyle; while it's possible that there are some texts that support such an interpretation, it's not the general consensus.  I know next to nothing about djinn (I did take a quarter of World Religion at the College of DuPage), and that was still enough to realize how arbitrary this movie's take on them was.  Still, this movie did bring Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhies, and the Candyman into the same movie, so it's not all bad.  It is just almost entirely bad.

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