FANTASY ISLAND zero stars
R, 109 mins.
2020, R, 109 mins.
Lucy Hale as Melanie / Michael Peņa as Mr. Roarke / Jimmy O. Yang as Brax / Michael Rooker as Morgan / Charlotte McKinney as Aphrodite / Parisa Fitz-Henley as Julia / Austin Stowell as Randall / Ryan Hansen as Bradley / Portia Doubleday as Sonja / Maggie Q as Elena
Directed by Jeff Wadlow / Written by Wadlow, Christopher Roach, and Jillian Jacobs
screening of BLUMHOUSE'S FANTASY ISLAND I went out to have supper.
Not too out of the ordinary, mind you. This is a common ritual for
I mixed things
up, though, and opted to order onion rings on the side as opposed French
fries with my burger.
After sampling a
few of the rings I was thoroughly convinced that they were the very best
that I've had in an awfully long time.
When the movie
started I couldn't get those onion rings out of my mind.
Even halfway through my screening I was contemplating how this
restaurant cooked them. Moreover,
what kind of batter did they use? What
temperature were they deep fried at?
For how long? How did
they stay so crispy on the outside, but so perfectly chewing on the
inside? Were they made from scratch or cooked from an existing
frozen batch state?
Even as FANTASY
ISLAND drew itself towards a conclusion I was still obsessed with the
quality of those rings and the possible prep and cooking work required to
get them to such a higher echelon level of unmatched taste.
Now, what do onion rings have to do with FANTASY ISLAND? Absolutely nothing, of course. But here's the thing (point incoming): The big screen adaptation of the late 1970s and early 1980s ABC TV series - which involved a vacation island resort where travelers could literally live out their deepest desires - is absolute garbage of the lowest order and an embarrassingly wrongheaded movie of amateurish trashiness. This is such a categorically wretch remake/reboot that it never once rises to the retrograde moniker of so-bad, it's-good. And, yes, all I thought about during every single minute of its excruciatingly long 109 minute running time were those delicious onion rings I had beforehand. Nothing else in this film mattered to me as much as that side dish that I ravenously stuffed in my mouth an hour before my screening. That's a telling qualitative sign as far as FANTASY ISLAND is concerned. This film is as thoroughly bad as any of seen lately.
forget...I just suffered through the abomination that was DOLITTLE
To be fair,
seeing Blumhouse's name attached to this film - and even featured heavily
in the marketing - held a small kernel of modest promise to me.
Turning the pretty B-grade and corny TV series into a darker
psychological horror thriller most definitely has its initial appeal
(plus, why remake something if you're just going to lazily copy it
wholesale?). This film still
has a magical island of unknown power that allows visitor's deepest
fantasies to come true. It
still has the enigmatic head of the island named Mr. Roarke, albeit with
no sidekick named Tattoo (well...sort of anyway).
But this island has mystical subterranean trees, dreary caves,
zombie-like monsters, and dark and macabre ghostly visions running afoul.
Making a warped version of this show seems like an interesting
take, but the laughably contrived and preposterously lackluster writing, a
fundamental lack of scares or suspense, as well as a target audience
insulting PG-13 rating utterly destroys FANTASY ISLAND from the inside
out. Why make a horror
version of this material if you're not going for a hard R?
Granted, when the storytelling, acting, and directing is as soul
crushingly putrid as it is here...perhaps no rating change could have
saved this turkey.
So, the plot - if
I can even call it that - involves a set of five people that make the
pilgrimage to the aforementioned and fabled island, where they hope to
spend a week to see all of their wildest dreams come true.
There's Gwen (Maggie Q), who has a deeply personal fantasy to right
a past wrong that denied her marital bliss.
Then there's Melanie (Lucy Hale), who's lusting for some major
comeuppance against an old school bully.
Rounding off this group are J.D. (Ryan Weaver) and Brax (Jimmy O.
Yang), a couple of brothers that want to live the high party life filled
with available women (and men), booze, drugs, and all the other hedonistic
there's Patrick (Austin Stowell), who yearns to be a solider as a way to
deal with his daddy issues. They're
all greeted by the island's head, Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena, a good actor,
but a poor stand-in for the iconic Ricardo Montalban), who
matter-of-factly informs the visitors that all of their fantasies will be
given to them, but they must see them through to final fruition. Everything starts smoothly enough for everyone, that is until
the guest's respective fantasies take some really horrific detours, which
hints towards the congenial Mr. Roarke perhaps having some truly sinister
Setting up Mr. Roarke
as a villain here could have made for a would-be clever subversion of the
series that inspired this film, but director Jeff Wadlow seems hell bent
on tipping off very early on that there's something just not right with
this guy, which makes it borderline anticlimactic when it's revealed that
he's not all about ensuring the heavenly bliss of his patrons.
This leaves the exploratory aspects of the story all but null and
void, which in turn renders any level of tension in the film vacant as
well. All of this is not assisted by the fact that Pena looks
absolutely bored AF as Roarke and never once plays him with any level of
devilish charm. He's kind of
a personality blank slate in the film.
His supporting cast is equally terrible, especially Lucy Hale, who
never really seems invested in her character, outside of playing up to her
wildest emotional beats. Yang
and Weaver are excruciatingly annoying as their wanna-be fratboys/comic
relief here. Hell, even a
kooky Michael Rooker shows up a creepy dude living in the bush on the
island that seems to know all of its hellish secrets, but the actor looks
so amusingly befuddled in the part that he appears to have been dropped in
here from a whole different film altogether.
Nearly all of these characters are totally insufferable (aside form Maggie Q's good natured and relatable Gwen), so I guess all we are left with is the script and Wadlow's attempts to bring the horror elements out to generate tangible scares, but FANTASY ISLAND is never once thrilling or frightening (not even the pathetically telegraphed jump scares elicited any reaction from the audience at my screening), and the more the story careened down one head scratchingly dumb reveal after another it became clear that there was no cohesive game plan at play. Some of the character embellishments are even insulting, like making Brax Asian and gay (not that there's anything wrong with that, but here it's used for cheap plot twisting and audience manipulating purposes instead feeling natural and organically inclusive). Beyond that, FANTASY ISLAND horrifically stumbles at attempting some level of explanation regarding the supernatural powers that this island has and how it grants out impossible fantasies, but the end result is so silly and ill conceived that a simple disclaimer of "Well, the island is just magic!" would have been more satisfying. And, Jesus H, don't even get me started on the finale, during which time it offers up one humdinger of an illogical and utterly incoherent plot breaking twist, not mention its insipid promises of future installments sequels - that I promise you no single viewer wants - to come.
As far as TV shows to silver screen rehashes go, FANTASY ISLAND is one of the more idiotically dull and uninspired examples that I've come across. To their credit, Blumhouse has made some decent to great horror thrillers (like the Oscar nominated GET OUT to the horribly underrated THE GIFT to the guilty pleasured THE PURGE and HAPPY DEATH DAY series), and the idea of them channeling the archaic and somewhat forgotten ABC series into something with a modern edge and grit has its appeal. But, why did they even bother with attempting to transform FANTASY ISLAND into a potential fright fest if they were just going to undercut it with a wimpy and lacking in nerve PG-13 rating? Like the monumentally terrible and unwatchable BAYWATCH from a few years ago, FANTASY ISLAND proves that not every TV show should be resurfaced for silver screen consumption. If I could journey to such a fabled island as chiefly on display in the movie, my wish fulfillment fantasy would be for Hollywood to leave long dormant TV franchises permanently dead and buried. A side fantasy would be a free lifetime pre-movie screening serving of those mouth wateringly tasty onion rings.