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Front Page - Friday, February 21, 2020

Critic's Corner: ‘Fantasy Island’ crashes shortly after ‘the plane!’ is spotted

The makers of the new “Fantasy Island” flick must be smarter than the movie would suggest. This dawned on me near the end of the film, which isn’t nearly as bad as its beginning.

With nothing to hold my attention as “Fantasy Island” drew to a daft conclusion, my mind wandered and I realized writer, producer and director Jeff Wadlow must have wanted people to leave the theater thinking the movie didn’t turn out as badly as they had initially thought it would.

How bad is the start of the film? Without giving too much away, the ending features a rock that grants people’s wishes, killer zombies and a parade of twists, turns and revelations so silly, I started to think Wadlow was making a spoof of the TV series.

And the beginning is worse.

“Fantasy Island” opens with the clunky arrival of a plane load of guests. As the aircraft appears on the horizon, an olive-skinned beauty says, “the plane!” and runs to tell her boss, Mr. Roarke, who was played by Ricardo Montalban in the 1977-1984 ABC TV series.

“Smiles, everyone, smiles,” Roarke says as he makes his way through the lobby of his hotel, and just like that, the movie feels off because the actor playing him isn’t someone with the debonair qualities of Montalban but Michael Peña in an oversized suit.

Peña is a good actor – see “Crash” and the “Ant-Man” movies – but he’s horribly miscast as Roarke.

Worse, as the gang shuffles off the plane and assembles on the pier, Wadlow’s direction is so awkward, I half-expected to hear him say, “Cut” off screen and then, “Let’s do that again, but better.”

A few minutes later, Wadlow reveals his lack of imagination at the keyboard when one of the male guests says, “I couldn’t hear a thing on the plane. It was too loud,” and one of the girls slides up to him and says, “I can get loud.”


Even worse (I know I keep using the word “worse,” but it’s working), it isn’t long until a different woman is alone and the film goes silent as she explores her room. “Gee, I wonder if something is about to jump out of nowhere and scare her?” I thought.

Something did – and it made a big booming sound in the process. Although audiences don’t fall for that trick anymore, that didn’t stop Wadlow from using it five or six times. I wish someone had told him the best surprises in a horror movie are the kind that don’t make loud noises.

Anyway, “Fantasy Island” is laid out just like the series in that guests arrive by plane, Roarke greets them and their fantasies come true during their stay at the island. In time, the storylines of the various characters converge, which is when Wadlow’s movie begins to trip over itself and break its own rules.

Possibly to get out of the corner into which he had painted himself, Wadlow even included a scene in which someone actually jumps up and says, “No, I’m the villain!” and then launches into a lengthy explanation of his (or her!) evil machinations.

Whatever. I was already thinking about dinner.

Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh on “Fantasy Island.” After all, wasn’t the TV series little more than campy network fare, like most shows during that time? Maybe the mystical rock and killer zombies were a wink to the spirit of the original?

If that’s the case, then the studio that ushered the project into existence, Blumhouse, tried to have it two ways. “Fantasy Island” begins with the tone of a modern horror film and gradually descends into camp. I just don’t see that as a deliberate artistic decision.

But kudos to Wadlow for making the ending better than the beginning.

If Blumhouse produces a sequel, I hope the studio uses more imagination, spends more money (the film was clearly a low-budget effort) and aims higher. As it stands, “Fantasy Island” is a waste of a potentially fun franchise.