A film review by Craig J. Koban February 24, 2020

FANTASY ISLAND zero stars    

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

 

 

 

 

Before my 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 me.  

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.   

Perhaps ever.  

Like, seriously.   

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.  

And don't forget...I just suffered through the abomination that was DOLITTLE last month. 

 

 

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 accoutrements.  Lastly, 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 motives.   

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.  

Sigh. 

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. 

  H O M E