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KIDS ON FILM

OC LIVE : Granted, '3 Wishes' Is Manipulative, but That's Not All Bad

November 02, 1995|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In "Three Wishes," a suburban mother of two (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) whose husband is presumed a casualty of the Korean War befriends a polite, mysterious drifter (Patrick Swayze) who moves in, learns each family member's deepest need and grants each an unspoken wish. (Rated PG)

Bored and restless, some kids and grown-ups walked out early on this oversized television tear-jerker. The rest gave it three cheers.

Spencer Wampole, 7, of Newport Beach sat through it all.

"It was happy and sad and just a really good movie," he said.

"I liked it a lot," said Kristin Wulff, 11, of Laguna Hills. "It gave me a message. . . . Be happy with what you've got."

Told in one extended flashback, the story centers on Tom, a social outcast who yearns for a father. When his mother offers his room to Jack, a homeless drifter she has injured in a car accident, he is scornful. Jack isn't like the other men in suburbia: He has facial hair; he drinks sun tea, he sunbathes nude.

(Some young neophytes to the big screen got a huge kick out of hearing the word "naked" said in public. If they liked that, just wait till they graduate to PG-13.)

But gradually Tom bonds with Jack, who uses Eastern philosophy and mental techniques to improve the performance of Tom's Little League team. (Is there a PG film that doesn't use this formula? Widespread chuckling accompanied the scene of the uniformed team sitting in a circle chanting "ooooommmm.")

Jack also has a wise and magical mutt, and soon the neighbors are wondering: Is he "not of this world"? Or could he be the promising White Sox pitcher Jack McCloud, missing after his first year in the majors?

Meanwhile, Tom's mother debates whether she should remarry for financial reasons, and his baby brother has a life-threatening illness.

At this point, toddlers squirmed, one fell asleep and another told his father bluntly, "I don't want to watch it any more." One adult left in a huff, muttering, "It's slow. There's no point to it. Worse than TV."

"Three Wishes" is a movie Bob Dole and William Bennett could easily embrace. There's only one noticeably outstanding swear word and only one implied sex act (which, seeing as it involves someone possibly "not of this world," might not even count). The mother, though cast as a single parent, is a 1955-perfect homemaker and she wants to start her own business.

But some kids said parts of the movie hit home, particularly the creative depictions of the younger child's nighttime fantasies. Curtis Wilson, 7, of Newport Beach, said his favorite part was "when that monster thing was there. He had these sharp fangs and stuff." He liked it even better when it was all over.

The only scenes he didn't like were those in a graveyard where Tom and his family went to honor his missing father. "It was too sad," he said.

Aditi Sharma, 8, of Newport Beach, appreciated the story because "the man gave all three of the people in the family wishes, like whatever he thought they wanted. Like that." How he did it, she wasn't sure.

In any case, she agreed with her mother that a story like this probably couldn't be set in the '90s. Single mothers today aren't likely to take in a neighbor, much less a homeless stranger, no matter how polite he is.

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