I do not care if I ruin Fantasy Island for you. It is awful. I must admit to a moment of confusion, though, as I entered the theater. When watching the preview for this film, I was aware of the old television show of the same name but did not think this iteration of it had anything to do with its broadcast predecessor. The trailer led me to believe I was in for a horror flick, and thus I was expecting a riotous crowd full of yammering teenagers ready to laugh (disturbingly) at gruesome murders. At least that had been my experience with the last few so-called scary movies I have seen. Thus when I encountered a bunch of well-dressed, middle-aged folk, I literally walked back out to make sure I had entered the correct theater. The final nail in the coffin was early on in its runtime when Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang) looks into the sky and exclaimed, “the plane!” At that point I muttered, “Oh no.”
My memory of the television show Fantasy Island is not the best, but as far as I can recall it was not a weekly murder-fest. Yet that was what this apparent soft reboot became before too long. Actually, there was a strange tonal disparity throughout this film. After my initial sinking suspicion of what it was going to be, I quickly became annoyed by Weaver and his brother (Bradley, played by Ryan Hansen) and their incessant high-fiving, which I guess was played for laughs. I was not laughing. And then there were the dramatic moments when Melanie (Lucy Hale) explained her traumatic school years and the bullying she received from Sonja (Portia Doubleday). This gives way to the Saw-esque torture scene where Melanie is given a choice of how to inflict pain on Sonja. From there, the movie basically rotates between these three tones without any direction.
The lack of direction goes further awry when throughout most of Fantasy Island it attempts to service four different stories between five main characters. There is Elena’s (Maggie Q) desire to do-over her refused marriage proposal that led to her not having a family; Melanie’s revenge quest (covered above); Greg’s fantasy of being a soldier like his father; and Brax and Bradley’s raunchy party. I have a feeling that at some point, somebody from Sony Productions must have wandered on to the set, looked around, and said to director Jeff Wadlow, “What the heck is going on here?!” Thus there is a strange twist where they try to tie the divergent narratives together with a back story about how they all lived in or near one building before they arrived on the island. But they did not know each other. Yeah, right.
The circus music really started in my head in Fantasy Island when it is revealed that Melanie is the one behind all the death and destruction taking place. She wanted to date Nick Taylor (Evan Evagora), but when he died in a fire in the apartment building where all these supposed strangers lived near, she did not take it well, to say the least. I guess only these few people were responsible for Nick’s death because there were no other residents or police officers she held to account. Finally, there is the magical stone that–and this is basically verbatim what was said in the movie–can do anything. It can create people and transport you to different times and places. The one thing it could not do, apparently, was create a good script. In the end, our witless “heroes” grand idea for solving their predicament was to blow up the god-rock, but they fail even in that endeavor, the effort of which leads to Greg falling on the grenade meant to destroy the stone. We conclude the mayhem with Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña, who looked very bored) remaining imprisoned (for some reason) to the island, and now he has Brax to keep him company.
One of the lessons that Fantasy Island tries so desperately (and comes up short) to convey is that our fantasies do not turn out how we expect. While I would be inclined to agree with this sentiment, they also do not typically devolve into bloody killing. People, obviously, have fantasies. But the most shocking thing about this movies was perhaps when Mr. Roarke claims, “That’s why we ride roller coasters or go to horror movies: to feel something.” No. Just no. You do not need to be titillated to feel something when we have God to which we can turn. While I do applaud the characters for seeing through the facade of their fantasies, no matter how real they seemed, the way the story was told was empty, specious, and best left unwatched. I can only imagine what the other viewers thought of it.