Special effects have become the major stars of summer movies. As if to underscore that fact, TV movie special “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie” (7 p.m., Disney) features more than 350 special visual effects.
“The Wizards” stars Selena Gomez as Alex Russo, the precocious teenage daughter of a former practitioner of the magic arts. In “The Movie,” a bored Alex accompanies her parents on a Caribbean vacation. The tropical fun gets tricky when she wishes her parents had never met. Alex and her similarly gifted brother have to scramble through the contrived and arcane rules of Disney occult magic to reverse the spell and make everything “normal.”
To the casual observer, it will seem that the real “magic” Alex holds over her parents is the ability to walk and talk like a 35-year-old and get away with anything. In one scene, her harried mother begs her to “go easy on me.”
The movie’s plot makes it clear that the complete abdication of parental control can be both a dream and a nightmare. But Alex’s arrogance and utter lack of vulnerability make her seem creepier than any witch.
• Reporting the obvious as news is not new. A generation ago “Saturday Night Live” lampooned the practice with Chevy Chase’s now immortal gag: “This breaking news just in. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”
The “still dead” story of the summer belongs to Michael Jackson, and both the networks and cable news operations have done their worst to crowd out real reporting with speculative tabloid voyeurism and all-around time-wasting. “20/20” (9 p.m., ABC) catches us up on a story we’ve found hard to avoid for the past two months.
Barbara Walters sits down with Michael’s sister LaToya for her take on Jackson’s children and the recent announcement that his death may have been a homicide.
You know we’ve reached the beginning of something forgettable when an interview with LaToya Jackson is passed off as “news.” The idea that this circus will now add a homicide trial to its center ring must warm the hearts of news directors and lift the spirits of the agents and press agents for the countless hangers-on and has-beens seeking their moment in the klieg lights.
To be fair, ABC’s “20/20” isn’t the only outlet flogging the morbid Gloved-One beat. You can also catch “Michael Jackson History: The King of Pop” (7 p.m., BET), featuring interviews and footage from his 1980s heyday and “The Jacksons: An American Dream” (7 p.m., VH1), the 1992 miniseries about the not-so-tender years of the young Jackson Five, starring Angela Bassett.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Washington hosts New England in preseason NFL action (7 p.m., CBS).
• Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black star in the 2008 movie-making parody “Tropic Thunder” (7 p.m., HBO), featuring an inspired and deranged performance by Tom Cruise.
• Hugh Jackman, Lady Gaga and Martin Clunes appear on “Friday Night with Jonathan Ross” (8 p.m., BBC America).
• Adrian poses as a killer on “Monk” (8 p.m., USA).
• A radical memory audit results in a blank slate on “Eureka” (8 p.m., SyFy).
• Will Smith departs from his usual summer blockbuster fare to play a down-on-his luck job-seeker in the 2006 drama “The Pursuit of Happyness” (8 p.m., TNT).