In conventional, old-fashioned stories about wish-granting genies, the number of wishes is limited to three, the better to deliver a solid punchline or useful lesson. In our consumerist and content-crazy times, a mere three wishes won’t do. “Genie,” a new film directed by Sam Boyd, stars Melissa McCarthy as Flora, a genie unleashed by an overworked dad as he massages an old jewel box he tried to pass off as a birthday present for the daughter whose celebration he missed.
Flora offers Bernard (Paapa Essiedu) unlimited wishes by which to save his marriage, delight his daughter, take revenge on his bad boss (Alan Cumming) and enhance his home art collection. Predictably, at least if you’ve seen “Aladdin,” Flora is an ancient being who speaks colloquial American English with a deft command of idioms, but also doesn’t know what pizza is. Her riffing is typically McCarthyesque but feels strained at times. Guessing her new master’s desires, she reaches: “Girls? Gold? Golden girls?” When pressed, would McCarthy claim credit for that bit, or would the screenwriter Richard Curtis?
The flights of fancy Curtis (“Love, Actually”) concocts here include the “Mona Lisa” finding a new home in New York. And the ostensible rules of the fantasy shift according to mere plot whim: While Flora supposedly has the power to manifest anywhere, when Bernard is pinched for art theft, Flora can’t help him on account of their physical separation.
Fantasy movies are of course free to be far-fetched, but some of the plot turns here are so wide as to suggest shrugging contempt. The holiday themes feel arbitrary and tacked on; one guesses the script was rescued from Curtis’s bottom drawer and spruced up with some Christmas fairy dust. The story, finally, is only about a man who learns the true meaning of punctuality.
Also, the flying carpet special effects are lousy.
Rated PG for a little salty language. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. Watch on Peacock.