“Wish Man,” writer-director Theo Davies’ biopic of Make-a-Wish Foundation co-creator Frank Shankwitz, is affecting, absorbing and inspiring enough to make you wish it was an all-around better film.
It’s a largely mechanical, on-the-nose, vaguely faith-oriented retelling of Shankwitz’s fraught life and the singular string of episodes that led the Arizona motorcycle cop to his true calling.
Unfortunately, as played by Aussie actor Andrew Steel, Shankwitz too often comes off as an irascible, cowboyish boozer who needs a crash course in chivalry. (Annoyingly, women are drawn to him anyway.) Like much else in the film, the character is painted with an overly broad brush.
In addition, the cop’s 1980 near-death experience plus his entrapment in a corruption case, although significant true events, don’t feel organic enough as stepping stones to the story’s crucial midpoint: Shankwitz’s unexpected friendship with a dying boy (Christian Ganiere), which laid the seeds for the Make-a-Wish invention.
The 1950s-set flashbacks, which show how a then-good-hearted, tween Shankwitz (Chris Day) suffered at the hands of his callous mother (Fay Masterson) and absentee father (Jason Gerhardt), are moving but don’t effectively justify the adult Shankwitz’s boorish behavior.
Still, the film retains an inherent emotional power and some worthy humor that keep us invested. Nice support from co-stars Kirby Bliss Blanton, Robert Pine, Gerhardt and especially Bruce Davison in a brief, heartbreaking turn.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood