Fantasy Island (2020)
The island knows your secrets.
Remember Aaron Spelling’s Fantasy Island (1977-84)? Well, if you ever thought the sight of the diminutive Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) spotting an airplane, then yelling ‘Ze Plane! Ze Plane!’ after running up a tower and ringing a bell, was the stuff of nightmares, then maybe this is the movie for you. Yep, Hollywood is clearly starting to run out of IPs to adapt, and Blumhouse Productions’ latest feels like a sure sign of desperation. With the franchise pool beginning to dry out, mega-producer Jason Blum has a stab at turning a cheesy late-70s anthology series into a ‘be careful what you wish for’ type horror.
If you’ve never seen the original show — which was also revived for a 13-episode run in 1998 — it follows a bunch of B-grade guest stars who are flown to the eponymous island to have their fantasies realized by the enigmatic resort manager Mr. Roarke (played by Ricardo Montalbán in the ’70s and Malcolm McDowell in the ’90s), only to have him teach them some kind of valuable life lesson. Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island follows a very similar trajectory but tries to go a little darker. Failing to generate any sort of scares, tension, or gore, this new take on Fantasy Island could very well be the year’s most ridiculous revamp, even if it’ll probably go down well with the Friday night genre crowd who’ll maybe forgive it for its blunders.
The film follows four Instagram-type contest winners who are flown to a tropical paradise known as Fantasy Island, where they’ll have their fantasies realized by its keeper, the mysterious Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), who’s instilled a couple of rules to keep things measured. The first is that guests can only have one fantasy, and the second is that they must follow it through to its natural conclusion, no matter what. While the visitors assume that Roarke is using some kind of trickery to fulfill fantasies (i.e., hologram technology or hallucinogens), they eventually learn that there’s something more sinister going on and that not all desires play out exactly how we expect them to.
Our subjects are the fresh-faced Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale), who’s plans of exacting revenge against a childhood bully, Sloane Maddison (Portia Doubleday), turn into a PG-13 version of Eli Roth’s Hostel (2003); ex-policeman Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell), who wants to be a real-life soldier for a day to honor his late father (who was killed in action during a secret mission in Venezuela a couple of decades earlier) but learns that playing the hero comes at a cost; businesswoman Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), who’s swayed to reevaluate her priorities after getting a chance to revisit a marriage proposal she’s long regretted turning down; and lastly, party animal JD Weaver (Ryan Hansen), who’s dragged his gay stepbrother Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) — whom he constantly high-fives and calls ‘bro’ — along for the ride. Hoping to get a taste of what it’s like to ‘have it all’ (wealth, desire, power, and endless penthouse parties), the brothers quickly learn that when you’ve got everything, there’s always someone eager to take it away.
Directed by Jeff Wadlow, who gave us such gems as Cry Wolf (2005), Kick-Ass 2 (2013), and Truth or Dare (2018), and penned by Wadlow, Christopher Roach, and Jillian Jacobs, Fantasy Island is a cheap-looking re-work that continues the filmmaker’s less-than-stellar track record. Struggling to stick to (or nail) a tone, Wadlow employs an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach here as he flips from the über-seriousness of Gwen’s second shot at marital bliss to the wackiness of JD and Brax’s hostage situation to a bit about a twisted surgeon nicknamed Dr. Torture (Ian Roberts). And that’s before the kids stumble onto the glowing heart at the center of the isle, which is surrounded by magical black water.
As each fantasy nosedives, twists and turns are thrown at the screen to keep viewers from noticing the glaring plot holes (of which there are many), with Wadlow trying his best to meld all the story threads together into a cohesive whole. While some of this stuff distracts, the film is ultimately hindered by a dim-witted last act revelation that makes absolutely no sense, and honestly feels as though it were made up on the spot. Come to think of it, there’s a lot in here that doesn’t make sense — muddy water drips from the ceiling for reasons I can’t explain, and what about those black-eyed zombies? And to top it all off, we get a bunch of weird Easter eggs, coz we’ve all wondered how Tattoo got his name, right?
Then there’s Michael Rooker, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), who shows up out of nowhere as if he’s wandered off the set of another movie (or perhaps his bed). Rooker plays a machete-wielding recluse named Damon, who’s been trying to expose the island’s dark secrets for years. Michael Peña, Ant-Man (2015), is completely miscast as a sinister version of Mr. Roarke and fails to bring an ominous quality to the island’s head overseer, despite looking dapper in his white getup. Lucy Hale seems to be playing the same character from Wadlow’s Truth or Dare (even her outfits look similar), while Parisa Fitz-Henley, Luke Cage (2016-18), has nothing to do as Roarke’s assistant Julia. Only Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang make an impression as dynamic duo JD and Brax respectively, who continue the winning double act they showcased in January’s sub-par Like A Boss (2019).
Given Wadlow’s uninspired resume, the fact that Fantasy Island isn’t very good shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. It’s a muddled, contrived and convoluted B-movie, though probably strange enough to attract a small cult audience somewhere down the line. Either way, the only fantasy here is the prospect of any kind of sequel going ahead in the foreseeable future. Oh well, perhaps we’ll get a Love Boat: Blumhouse Edition instead.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie