Fantasy Island (2020)

Director Jeff Wadlow’s (“Truth or Dare”) big screen adaptation “Fantasy Island” is a mess of a genre picture that easily one of the most tonally confused movies I’ve seen in years. Its prologue sets it up as a horror movie, then it becomes a goofy comedy about wish fulfillment, then it’s a character study about a son reconnecting with his father, the next minute it’s a torture revenge thriller, and the next it’s a movie about looking back at what could have been. None of it is remotely creepy, none of it is remotely spooky, and to top it all off, it’s all so painfully boring from beginning to end.

Entering a contest, a group of thirty somethings win a week long vacation experience at the mysterious Fantasy Island. With all that it has to offer, there’s only knowledge of the vacation spot’s lure through rumors. Greeting the guests is Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), who presents the group with a chance to fulfill their deepest fantasies, warning them that anything they begin must be experienced to its natural conclusion. Unsure, the gang sets out on their separate adventures and scenarios of their own. As they gradually experience their fantasies becoming violent nightmares, they seek to escape alive, and find out Mr. Roarke’s mysterious and sinister intentions.

My real question is who asked for this? Is there a market for a “Fantasy Island” movie (sans Ricardo Montalbán) when all was said and done? I could see a movie being made in 1998, perhaps, but “Fantasy Island” is a campy gradually obscure genre series that’s re-imagined as a drama thriller that feels like it came out of 2002. Originally two television movies and then a series from 1978 to 1984, “Fantasy Island” is a show I vividly recall watching, and there’s no denying that it’s a fairly dead IP. The target audience won’t understand the winks to the original series that are tacked on, and those old enough to remember the series when it was on television won’t find interest in the premise aimed squarely at their grand children.

While the concept certainly is interesting—on paper, it’s woefully ill conceived and feels like there were just too many cooks in the kitchen during the script process. There seems to often feel like a struggle of ideas as the movie shifts back and forth from drama, to comedy, to action, and dark fantasy. It barely ever touches on the horror genre, sadly, even when it finds the time to inject horror elements, it belly flops spectacularly. How do you waste Michael Rooker, and a maniacal masked surgeon with a knack for torture? Everything from bottom to the top is a mess, from casting, to characters to intentions. Should we hate the contestants on the island, or should we root for them? Is Mr. Roarke a villain or a tragic hero?

Why do the fantasies all have to play out until the end? Is Mr. Roarke a prisoner or not? And are these people having fantasies or Roarke’s idea of what they should want? If Brax wishes his brother can fulfill his life, what happens when JD dies? What happens if Brax dies first? “Fantasy Island” isn’t just awful but it makes a strong argument for why it’s unnecessary as it progresses. Throw this on the pile of terrible TV adaptations with “CHiPs,” “My Favorite Martian,” “Beverly Hillbillies,” and “I Spy.”