Portia Doubleday and Lucy Hale in Fantasy Island (Photo: Columbia)
★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jeff Wadlow
STARS Michael Pena, Maggie Q
Fantasy Island was once a benign television series that ran for seven seasons (1977-1984) on ABC, but now it has been reconfigured by the Blumhouse team as a horror flick. In other words, this ain’t your parents’ (or possibly even your own) Fantasy Island.
It’s a smart approach with which to tackle a show that was often a bit too precious for its own good, and the tweaking reaches its pinnacle with a closing bit that truly delivers. And, for a short while, the film maintains interest with a set-up that nicely turns the original premise on its head. Mr. Roarke (a miscast Michael Peña) has invited five contest winners to his island resort to fulfill their biggest fantasies. For most, it involves stirring up something from the past. Gwen (Maggie Q) wants a second chance at the marriage proposal that got away. Melanie (Lucy Hale) seeks revenge on a former childhood bully (Portia Doubleday). And Patrick (Austin Stowell) desires an opportunity to serve, just like his father who was killed in action. As for siblings Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J.D. (Ryan Hansen), they simply want to be fabulously wealthy.
Needless to say — and as Mr. Rourke repeatedly states — fantasies have a way of not going where you want or expect, and that’s certainly the case here, as the various scenarios become nightmarish. Yet it’s exactly when the wishes turn dark that the movie turns daft. There are plotholes aplenty to be found in the various segments (Gwen’s story strand is especially problematic in this regard), and while it’s clever how the trio of scripters (including director Jeff Wadlow) ultimately link everything together, it’s not exactly satisfying since the movie cheats to get there. Yet amazingly, the final stretch, when the true villain is revealed and the once-primary villain is suddenly demoted to the part of a well-meaning if misguided dope, is so messy, ludicrous and ill-conceived that it makes the earlier missteps pale in comparison.
Still, the willingness to mess around with an established TV series should be commended, and hopefully we’ll see more efforts in this vein. Three’s Company as an existential Western? Murder, She Wrote as a raunchy comedy? The mind boggles at the possibilities.