Fantasy Island Review: A Dull Attempt to Revive a Dead Franchise

I have to imagine that the circumstances that lead to a Fantasy Island reboot in the year of our Lord 2020 were simpler than we might think. The series was certainly popular at the time, but literally no one has thought about it in two decades, which, I’ll admit, gives it the perfect chance to reinvent itself. An opportunity like that in mind, why did it have to be this dull? The pitch meeting for how this movie got approved would probably be more fascinating than the movie itself which is convoluted, lame, and frequently nonsensical.

Loosely based on the television series of the same name, Fantasy Island puts a modern horror spin on the premise by taking the show’s Monkey’s Paw antics to the extreme, however, the film never crosses a threshold it can’t take back and fits comfortably into its place as PG-13 fodder for young audiences. It’s always just racy enough in the sex department for pre-teens to gawk at, just violent enough to get a reaction without showing actual blood, and with just enough jump scares for young minds to feel entertained. Fantasy Island wants to have its cake, eat it too, and even throw it on the ground. It’s a farce, but not even in a way that is fun to watch.

The team behind Blumhouse's Truth or Dare, director Jeff Wadlow and screenwriters Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs, reunite for the film which feels like the next step after the “success” of that movie. Though it certainly has more of an actual track for its plot than their previous attempt, the story still makes no sense at all. I wasn’t even aware that the movie had undergone reshoots until I looked it up afterward, but you can clearly point to the part of the movie that was changed, presumably after an even more terrible version was shown to unsuspecting audiences in a mall in Santa Monica.

Lucy Hale leads the cast (another reprisal from Truth or Dare) and does a fine enough job with what she’s given, but her character is all over the place and, at times, feels like she’s wandered into a different movie. Fantasy Island is populated with familiar-enough faces for audiences to recognize, but sadly no one stands out in any remarkable way, though admittedly Jimmy O. Yang does have some really funny jokes (not enough to save the movie or even to classify it as a comedy). Michael Peña’s Mr. Roarke, the role made famous by Ricardo Montalbán in the original series, pops in and out like a jack in the box in a schlubby white suit, delivering lines that could be interchanged from scene to scene and not alter the narrative in a meaningful way.

The thing that makes so little sense about Fantasy Island is its intentions. From the rating to the scares, it’s clear this is for teenagers, but at no point does this actually feel like something teenagers would find interesting. Obviously the ability to live your fantasies is appealing to everyone, and the fresh faces of the cast give the audience someone to identify with, but there’s nothing inherently amusing about this take on the material and nothing compelling in the storytelling. But I was young, too, once and I know that sometimes it's just about having a movie you can see with your friends and forget after you’ve wandered into the parking lot. Fantasy Island will be the same way, even if there are some Baby Boomers that wander into the theater because they remember the old series.

If Fantasy Island is lucky enough to be remembered in a year’s time, it’s because it will forever be known as a great example of “cheap, uninspiring horror movie made to cash in on teenagers with extra money while using an old IP as window dressing.” You can’t fit that on a poster, but frankly, they couldn’t fit a coherent narrative into the movie itself. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this movie has the worst actual ending since Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. Obviously I will not spoil it, but for the first time in my years of going to the movies, my hands covered my face from the secondhand embarrassment. My new fantasy is leaving dead IPs that no one cares about dormant.

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Rating: 1 out of 5

Fantasy Island is in theaters now.

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