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In Theaters: FANTASY ISLAND (2020)

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FANTASY ISLAND
(US - 2020)

Directed by Jeff Wadlow. Written by Jeff Wadlow, Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs. Cast: Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Michael Rooker, Jimmy O. Yang, Portia Doubleday, Ryan Hansen, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Kim Coates, Mike Vogel, Robbie Jones, Evan Evagora, Goran D. Kleut, Ian Roberts, Charlotte McKinney. (PG-13, 109 mins)

It was only a matter of time before the ball landed on FANTASY ISLAND on the Intellectual Property roulette wheel. Airing on ABC on Saturday nights from 1978 to 1984, FANTASY ISLAND followed THE LOVE BOAT, and both shows offered endless guest spots for both popular TV actors of the time and past-their-prime stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It was a big hit and briefly turned Herve Villechaize's Tattoo into a pop culture phenomenon until the reportedly difficult actor was fired from the show just before its final season. Tattoo's catchphrase "The plane! The plane!" is really all anyone remembers about FANTASY ISLAND these days, though it did provide veteran actor and Chrysler pitchman Ricardo Montalban his most recognizable role until 1982's STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN as Mr. Roarke, the mysterious, white-tux-clad overseer of a luxurious vacation getaway where, for a price, visitors could fulfill their ultimate fantasies (or at least as "ultimate" as network TV would allow). There was always a dark undercurrent to the show with its "be careful what you wish for" scenarios, so re-imagining it as a straight-up horror movie might've had some potential, but in the erratic hands of the wildly inconsistent Blumhouse, the end result is an almost total disaster.





The set-up remains the same, with a group of vacation package contest winners landing on the titular island. Tattoo is nowhere to be found in these more sensitive times--and rest assured, there's already woke thinkpieces about his "troubling legacy"--so their arrival is met with an exuberant "The plane! The plane!" exclaimed by Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley), the newly-hired assistant to Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena). The vacationers looking for their greatest wish fulfillment include Gwen (Maggie Q), who turned down a marriage proposal five years earlier and has regretted it every day since; desk-bound cop Patrick (Austin Stowell), who always wanted to follow in his hero father's footsteps and join the military but never did; dudebro stepbrothers J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), who just want a kickass party weekend; and Melanie (Lucy Hale), who's seeking revenge on Sloane (Portia Doubleday), the Mean Girl who made her life hell in high school. Mr. Roarke encourages them to enjoy their fantasies, with the caveat that he is powerless to intervene and that "all fantasies must come to their natural conclusion."


So far, so meh, as director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow (who also directed Hale in Blumhouse's universally-reviled TRUTH OR DARE) cuts back and forth between the various fantasies, much like the TV show. J.D. and Brax--who gets very irate when J.D. refers to him by the past nickname "T" in a cumbersome way that you know it must mean something later--hook up with available hotties and bond as brothers, which is important to Brax as everyone in their family but J.D. cut him off after he came out of the closet years earlier. Patrick is given combat fatigues and set loose in the jungle, where he immediately comes upon a covert military operation; Gwen opens a door to find her ex-boyfriend Alan (Robbie Jones) waiting for her in the very restaurant where she rejected him to propose to her once more; and Melanie is taken to an underground control room where she finds Sloane strapped to a chair with a variety of physical and psychological torture methods at the ready, ranging from electric shocks to posting a secret video of Sloane's recent adulterous tryst all over social media for her husband and her friends to see. But then the fantasies start intersecting--a grenade blast taking place in one is heard in another, and all parties keep running into Damon (Michael Rooker), a disheveled, machete-wielding mystery man who's hiding out on the island, warning everyone that it and Mr. Roarke are pure evil.


With its tired plot machinations, predictable jump scares, mostly annoying characters, and a PG-13 target audience that's, at best, vaguely aware of its 40-year-old inspiration, FANTASY ISLAND goes nowhere slowly, and it gets even worse when it starts piling on twist after twist until nothing makes sense anymore. The story just becomes a series of rote rehashes of horror films past, with M. Night Shyamalan plot turns; a vaguely CABIN IN THE WOODS situation in the way the island is "controlled;" an evil, hulking, stitch-mouthed figure known as "The Surgeon" (Ian Roberts), who looks like he lumbered in from a bad circa 2002 Dark Castle production; and clumsy references, like when the island transports Patrick 25 years into the past to a Venezuela military operation run by his dad (Mike Vogel), and another soldier says "You look dazed and confused...you know, like that movie that came out last year!" And there's even black-ops Russian mercenaries in PURGE masks led by Kim Coates, plus some zombies oozing black goo from their eyes, because what the hell, why not? As everyone's fantasies start intersecting, it becomes clear that something bigger--and dumber--is going on, especially as Mr. Roarke grows more evasive about the true nature of the island. It all leads to at least a half dozen false endings (it seriously looks ready to wrap up at one point, but it drags on for another 25 minutes), culminating in an eye-rolling groaner of a punchline that's notable not just for its belabored set-up and execution but also in its hubristically ballsy assumption that this thing is getting a sequel.


Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize
in a publicity shot for the original series


Maggie Q is really the only one who seems interested in giving a real performance here. Elsewhere, the almost-40-year-old Will Arnett-lookalike Hansen (of VERONICA MARS and PARTY DOWN) is way too old to be playing someone still indulging in these kind high-fiving bro-downs, Hale (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) brings nothing to her obnoxious character aside from hip snark and can't even 'tude, and Rooker only seems to be here in a desperate attempt to curry favor with the convention crowd. Worst of all is a horribly miscast Pena, who registers none of the effortless magnanimity or the subtly sinister presence of the great Montalban. This was shot mostly on Fiji, and the one thing Pena convincingly sells is that he's only here for the paid vacation. Montalban's Mr. Roarke was a master class in exquisitely-tailored, regal authority. Pena is visibly slouching in more casual, wrinkled attire, is absent for long stretches, and only seems to perk up when he gets to put some extra sauce on every utterance of "faaaahntahhsssyyy." Maybe he's too young for the role--Andy Garcia did a fine job of playing Montalban in HBO's Herve Villechaize biopic MY DINNER WITH HERVE, and a black-suited Malcolm McDowell also acquitted himself well on ABC's otherwise forgettable one-season 1998 revival. Any number of older actors could've brought more suavely erudite gravitas to a new Mr. Roarke: Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, and Pierce Brosnan immediately jump to mind. Coming soon after the latest revamp of CHARLIE'S ANGELS tanked, FANTASY ISLAND (or, "Blumhouse's FANTASY ISLAND," according to the opening credits) could serve as a teachable moment for producers and studios to cease raiding the back catalog of classic TV intellectual property and maybe come up with some new ideas (you'd think Pena and Hansen would've learned their IP lesson after appearing in 2017's CHiPS, which you completely forgot about, didn't you?). Of course, we know that won't happen, so all we can really do is wait for Blumhouse to get around to putting a DEATH SHIP/GHOST SHIP spin on THE LOVE BOAT, hopefully with the ominous tag line "Come aboard...they're expecting you."




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