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Sonys reboot of Fantasy Island plays up the horror.
Five guests at a remote vacation resort find their fantasies are turning into nightmares in Sony Pictures’ big-screen reboot of Fantasy Island, based on the popular TV series of the same name that ran from 1977 to 1984. This 21st-century update plays up the horror aspects and has been touted as a cross between Westworld and The Cabin in the Woodsperhaps with a little bit of Lost thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the film fails to capture any of the elements that made those works uniquely appealing, and the result is a muddled mishmash of tired tropes and yawn-inducing plot twists you can see coming from miles away.
(Mild spoilers below the gallery.)
Fantasy Island was always a terrific storytelling concept, despite its cheesier elements. Apparently, creator Aaron Spelling pitched the series to ABC executives as a joke after they’d rejected all his other ideasand the network loved it. The ultra-urbane Ricardo Montalbán played the dashing Mr. Roarke, proprietor of the titular island, providing guests the chance to live out their fantasies for a suitable price. He was aided by his trusty sidekick Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize). Every episode opened with Tattoo shouting the catchphrase, “Ze plane! Ze plane!” and ringing a bell in the island’s main tower as guests arrived.
The series focused on the different fantasies of specific guests, who inevitably found things did not play out quite the way they’d imagined. While the rules of engagement held that guests must see their fantasies through to the end, no matter what, Mr. Roarke always intervened if things got too dangerous. The series had certain supernatural elements (time travel was common, and ghosts, genies, and the devil himself made appearances), particularly in later seasons, with hints that Mr. Roarke was quite possibly immortal.
An attempted revival of the series in 1998 leaned even harder into the supernatural aspects, in which Fantasy Island was presented as a kind of limbo and a source for Mr. Roarke’s supernatural powers, while the many assistants who worked there were paying off some unnamed debt. That reboot bombed and was mercifully canceled midseason.
This latest reboot preserves much of the original premise. Per the official synopsis: “The enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort. But when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.”
- The guests are welcomed to Fantasy Island by Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley).
- Michael Peña plays the enigmatic Mr. Roarke.
- Maggie Q plays a successful businesswoman who regrets the road not taken.
- The daughter she might have had.
- Patrick (Austin Stowell) gets to be a soldier.
- JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) want to “have it all.”
- Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on the girl who bullied her mercilessly in school.
- Sloane (Portia Doubleday) is not a hologram after all.
- The Surgeon (Ian Roberts) is a nightmarish figure.
- Melanie and Sloane join forces to survive.
- Black goo streaming from his eyes probably isn’t a good thing.
- “The island isn’t what you think it is.”
- So much for that escape route off the island.
- Perhaps Mr. Roarke is not as genial as he first seems.
Gwen (Maggie Q, Divergent, Nikita) is a successful businesswoman filled with regret who wants to change the pastspecifically, her refusal of a marriage proposal years before. Melanie (Lucy Hale, Pretty Little Liars) wants to take revenge on the mean girl who bullied her in high school, Sloane (Portia Doubleday, Mr. Robot). Patrick (Austin Stowell, Bridge of Spies) is a former police officer who wants to serve in the army like his dead father. And stepbrothers JD (Ryan Hansen, Veronica Mars) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang, Silicon Valley)well, they’re a couple of perennial frat boys whose fantasy is to “have it all.” This translates into a wild poolside rave with lots of beautiful people at a mansion that also boasts a cache of weapons and a panic room.
Those are a lot of storylines to juggle over the course of a 109-minute movie, which means we never get to spend much time with any one character. There’s a reason the TV show only featured two or three fantasies per episode. So the guests are little more than lightly sketched caricatures, rather than well-developed characters. It’s hard to become too emotionally invested in their fates. The sole exception is Gwen, who is haunted by a tragic mistake in her past and tries to set it rightstumbling on the truth about why they are all there in the process. Maggie Q deserves kudos for imbuing a criminally underwritten role with so much intelligence and thoughtful regret.
The original TV series was content to leave the question of the true nature of Mr. Roarke and Fantasy Island a mystery. That was a wise decision. The film tries to supply a rudimentary explanation for both that, frankly, is ultimately unsatisfying. There is so much that is never explained, like why the “employees” of Fantasy Island seem to be zombies with black goo oozing out of their eyes when they are “killed” (not that they stay dead). The last third of the movie is a frenetic mess, with predictable twists shoehorned into an already confusing script, with little apparent thought as to whether those turns make sense for the characters.
It’s a shame, because the raw material and basic premise hold promise. Perhaps it would have worked better as a miniseries on a streaming service, so the characters and themes could be fully fleshed out into a more satisfying whole. But perhaps not. Above all, Fantasy Island is boringpossibly the worst sin a film can commit.
Listing image by Sony Pictures Entertainment