The original “Fantasy Island” spawned from two TV movies before becoming a full-fledged television series that ran on ABC from 1978 to 1984. It featured Ricardo Montalbán as an enigmatic fulfiller of fantasies for paying guests on a remote Pacific island. I never watched it much, but I distinctly remember how each show began. With Montalbán’s peppy sidekick Tattoo in a bell tower heralding the arrival of “The Plane, The Plane“. My parents then promptly sent me to bed.
The new big screen version (further proof that they will remake just about anything these days) ￼is a much different affair. As the Blumhouse tag denotes, “Fantasy Island” 2020 guarantees some embrace of the horror genre. But much like it’s inspiration, the film version bounces all over the genre map. One minute we’re in a restaurant during a romantic dinner. The next we’re with a special forces unit carrying out a covert military operation near the Venezuelan border.￼ One second it resembles a hedonistic party movie. Later I was waiting to hear “Previously on LOST“.
None of this is an especially bad idea on the surface and Blumhouse has a history of turning out successful horror movies from minuscule budgets (I’ve read this one was around $7 million). But “Fantasy Island” is a weird concoction. It is unquestionably ambitious and its director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow has some intriguing ideas. But the overall silliness and messy execution (especially in the final act) derails any chance at something remotely memorable.
Ricardo Montalbán is replaced by the less interesting, less charismatic Michael Peña (no fault of his, just an odd bit of casting). He plays Mr. Roarke, the overseer of the beautiful yet mysterious Fantasy Island. He is informed by his assistant (Parisa Fitz-Henley) that a plane of new guests has arrived. As special contest winners, each guest is flown to the island paradise with the promise that their most intimate fantasy will be granted. Do yourself a favor, don’t try to dig any deeper than that. Just a little thought and the whole thing comes unglued from the start.
So out of the plane comes the stock of lucky/unlucky participants. Melanie (Lucy Hale) fantasizes about paying back a bully. JD (Ryan Hanson) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) are douchey stepbros in search of the ultimate party. Gwen (Maggie Q) wants a second chance at marital bliss. Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be soldier like his late father.
It doesn’t help that all four fantasies are so tonally at odds. It’s even worse that they all play out like episodes from a cheap television serial, spotty performances and patches of woefully bad dialogue included. Again, you can see the gears turning in what could have been a potentially fun assemblage of intersecting fantasies, character revelations and other well-worn nonsense. But none of it (including its ten false endings) come together in a cohesive or satisfying way.
I can see this weird genre mashup gaining a minor following and actually making money (It’s projected to clear nearly double its production budget over its opening weekend). And perhaps it can work as a guilty pleasure or throwaway entertainment. But that’s about as far as you can stretch it. “Fantasy Island” does nothing to justify its existence. It’s just a blob of fairly interesting ideas pasted together and thrown out for consumption. And you can bet Blumhouse is already eyeing a sequel.
VERDICT – 2 STARS