Surprisingly, It Works
I honestly can’t believe I enjoyed a live-action film about a genie in a magic lamp. But I did. In spite of myself. Go figure.
The notion behind Tracy Trost’s third feature-film is as old as Saharan sand dunes: a person in need rubs a magic lamp and is granted three wishes—attendant to some rules about how those wishes can be used.
The lamp-rubber in question here is Lisa Walters, a young woman whose marriage is in trouble. Her husband Stanley is unable to get past the death of their young son, and his career as a novelist is foundering. When the lamp in question is handed off by a rather mystical neighbor, Lisa’s quick cleanup job invokes the presence of a metaphysical messenger… but don’t call him a genie!
As Lisa and Stanley come to grips with the idea that supernatural forces actually exist—and ponder what to do with those three wishes—Stanley befriends the foster children who live next door… and comes to grips with what he’s lost.
The Lamp has a lot going against it. First is a vague title that really doesn’t clue us into what the film is about. (In this case, I think it’s helpful to understand going in that this is essentially a fairy tale.) Second, the storyline includes not just one but two examples of what my colleague Maurice Broaddus (who is black) refers to as “The Magic Negro”—mystical black folks who are required by a script to step in and save white folks… even though, in all other respects, the characters are token minorities. In this case, Louis Gossett, Jr. is the, um, messenger while L. Scott Caldwell is that helpful neighbor, Miss Esther.
Finally, is there any doubt what will happen with the storyline involving Josh? Naw.
But there’s a lot going for this film, too, which captivated me in spite of its shortcomings.
On a technical level, The Lamp is the fulfillment of the promise I saw in Trost’s first film, Find Me. A Christmas Snow, released a year ago, was a step forward in some respects, but a step backward in others. Here, Trost applies all he’s learned and puts it into a single, solid package.
Next, the performances are all fine and restrained. Jason London and Meredith Salenger are both terribly appealing as Stanley and Lisa; Gossett is surprisingly entertaining; and Cameron Ten Napel doesn’t oversell her supporting appearance as neighbor tomboy Josh.
Best, Trost’s script—in all the ways that really matter—doesn’t really go where you expect it to. In the absence of a special effects budget (remember that part about a genie?) you’ll probably never miss CGI here, and… well, let’s just say you’ve never seen a genie story resolved the way that this one is.
This is light-weight entertainment, and it’s not overtly spiritual despite being made by the otherwise openly Christian Trost. As the next step in a youngish indie filmmaker’s development, this stacks up solidly alongside fare you’d expect from the Hallmark Channel. And sometimes, that’s a good thing.
Just don’t be put off by the odd promotional packing of this DVD. As a creative means to effect distribution, Trost has partnered with an insurance firm featured in the storyline—and that firm is sponsoring the DVD’s release.
The Lamp is unrated, but I’d peg this as G.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional copy of The Lamp.