Island of Misfit Strangers: Increasingly silly “Fantasy Island” is less fun than you wished for
Fantasy Island (2020)
Release Date: February 14, 2020 (Wide)
An adaptation of the popular 1977-1984 TV show starring Ricardo Montalbán as the enigmatic Mr. Roarke and Hervé Villechaize as his assistant Tattoo, “Fantasy Island” gets the slick, Blumhouse-produced treatment with a poppy, soft-horror bent to a series of be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tales. Writer-director Jeff Wadlow and co-writers Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach—the whole team behind 2018’s lame, tame “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare”—have seemingly put a relatively inspired spin on this high concept, but the script winds up tripping all over itself as if each new plot development was dreamt up on the fly. “Fantasy Island” is an increasingly silly diversion but never as much fun as it thinks it is and makes even less sense as the mystery of the malevolent island becomes unveiled.
Five strangers, who have won a contest, arrive to an island in Fiji where “anything and everything is possible” to live out their fantasies — for a price. Their mysterious host and “ambassador of deepest desires,” Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), tells them that they must see their individual fantasies through to “their natural conclusion.” Sharp-tongued singleton Melanie (Lucy Hale), looking for cell service and her next drink, wants sweet revenge on her high school bully, Sloane (Portia Doubleday), that becomes all-too-real once she realizes it’s the real Sloane and not a hologram being tortured, “Hostel”-style. The regretful Elena (Maggie Q) wants a redo of a marriage proposal she declined five years ago and even gets to have a young daughter in one day. Dog tag-wearing but never-enlisted cop Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be a soldier like his heroic father. Enthusiastic, high-fiving bros Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) want to live the high life, being taken to another side of the island that’s like a 24/7 pool party out of “Love Island” with bikini babes and chiseled men in Speedos. Naturally, all of their fantasies come with deadly consequences.
“Fantasy Island” stumbles out of the gate with an erratically edited prologue set on the island that gives away the sinister goings-on too early. The setup is as enticing as its tropical locale and offers a few moments of interest, and yet the filmmakers take almost 90 minutes to finally begin showing their hand with a follow-through that is not worth the wait. Disjointedly edited like an anthology series, where every fantasy segment cuts to another and cuts back to where the previous one was headed, the film renders the intended emotional beats flat and unconvincing, while lacking the wickedly perverse inspiration to make any of the isolated set-pieces stand out. When the film tries to be scary, it usually involves a character being jolted by a figure behind them in a mirror or someone backing up into a possible assailant, or the existence of black, oozy-eyed zombies (really?), and the results prove ineffective.
Since all of the characters are strangers to one another, they must explain themselves a lot in clunky, expository dialogue. The eye-catching cast tries its best with the single personality traits and backstories their pawn-like characters receive apiece, not to mention some pretty inane, cornball dialogue they’re tasked with delivering. Michael Peña (2018's "Ant-Man and the Wasp") tries to sell the role of Mr. Roarke with a suave menace and a white suit, but he’s underserved by the script that can’t decide if he should be the villain or a crestfallen soul. Lucy Hale (2018’s “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare”) tosses off an acerbic one-liner with aplomb, and it is fun to watch her playing less of a girl-next-door type, but the character of Melanie is so petty and thereafter becomes problematic. Maggie Q (2016’s “Allegiant”) might come off the best as Elena, creating more of a character worth caring about than anyone else.
If anything, “Fantasy Island” makes sure more than one character gets to utter Tattoo’s iconic catchphrase, “The plane! The plane!” when a plane does, in fact, circle the island. There was exciting potential to revive a dated, hokey TV property with a fresh, horror-adjacent slant on the big screen, but this script was in desperate need of another pass, particularly the third act where characters enter a cave and split up for no good reason. The big reveals then come at a head-spinning pace, relying on “Scooby-Doo”-style supernatural hokum involving a mystical rock, future-altering switcheroos and red herrings, and ludicrous contrivances concerning a life event shared by all five contestants. Once the last few reels not only plant a shameless nod to the source material, which the targeted demographic won't even catch, but leave the door wide open for a sequel, it’s more worthy of a groan than any fanfare. Unlike your parents’ “Fantasy Island,” this “Fantasy Island” will find very few fans.