You knew the rules, Blumhouse. You didn’t listen.
Welcome to Fantasy Island, a tropical paradise where your greatest wish is granted. Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on a middle-school bully (Portia Doubleday), while Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be a soldier like his father. High-fiving brothers Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J. D. (Ryan Hansen) simply “want it all,” and Gwen (Maggie Q) wants to undo her biggest regret. After winning a contest to become the island’s newest guests, they are welcomed by their host, Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) and his assistant Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley), but they’ll soon learn the island itself has secrets of its own… and the means to keep them.
Blumhouse has become one of the go-to horror/thriller production groups for getting stuff done and turning a profit. Making films that look better than their discount price tags, now they’re pairing up with big studios to rework some languishing properties, including Universal’s The Invisible Man in a few weeks (and their umpteenth attempt to reboot their Dark Universe franchise). Original works like Happy Death Day and its sequel 2U demonstrate they can take a fresh concept in multiple directions and have fun with it. With an adaptation of a 1980s Saturday-evening television series re-imagined as a darker-slanted film franchise, would Ricardo Montalban and Hervé Villechaize approve?
“One fantasy per guest… and once a fantasy begins, it must play through to its natural conclusion.” True fans of the original show, however, know those aren’t the only rules, a fact echoed at one point by the character of Julia. While it isn’t a spoiler to report there were no holograms of Tupac in keeping with the mystical nature of the source material, the plot tries to have it both ways: keeping with the original themes of the show but also turning them on their head. Sadly, this undermined what was working by pushing the twist too hard, undoing any goodwill earned and falling very flat in the resolution. Like two mashed-up scripts hijacked by a worse third, the setting and mystical trappings of the classic show exist herein, but those can’t overcome a lack of cohesion and the loftiest sin of remakes: disregarding the source material.
There are plenty of things wrong with this attempt, but a key few are glaringly obvious. 1. The source of the island’s power must remain a mystery. First of all, if you could destroy the source of the island’s reality-warping and time-twisting power (which would have to be an artifact harder to destroy than “The One Ring”), one could potentially undo every fantasy ever granted. Secondly, no matter how cool a writer thinks revealing that secret is, keeping it a mystery is more imaginative than any explanation. 2. The island doesn’t pointlessly torture guests. Yes, Blumhouse billed this as a horror film — falling very short with their PG-13 choice — but the gratuitous entertainment of the audience isn’t the island’s mandate. 3. Do not f**k with Mr. Roarke. No guest is more self-aware or trusting of the island’s capabilities than its host, so no guest is ever going to convince him of anything he hasn’t had decades or centuries to consider. Offend him at your own peril, because the island loves Roarke most of all.
With so low a price tag that the film can’t help but make money, the question remains whether or not the franchise will move forward. Sure, seeds were planted, plus Michael Peña’s Mr. Roarke was easily the best thing before the spot-on location. That said, a retcon of why “some things aren’t really the things” in the next installment would be helpful as well as keeping the meta stuff out of the story, but let’s consider this a missed opportunity… lest one incur the wrath of Khan to spit his last breath at thee.
Fantasy Island is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, drug content, suggestive material, brief strong language, and an extra demerit for under-utilizing Michael Rooker… for shame!
One skull recommendation out of four
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