Jeff Wadlow’s adaptation of the late-’70s TV show is a thrill-free getaway that only entertains when it goes from generic to incoherent.
Ring the alarm next time a movie tacks “Blumhouse’s” to the front of its title. Is it a marketing tactic? Is it a sign of desperation? How about a warning to heed instead? Hell, is it all three? It might be a little early to tell, but it’s starting to feel like the latter.
Money maestro Jason Blum last stamped his production company’s name onto Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare in April 2018 to spin a tale of a demonically possessed game that turned people’s faces into Snapchat filter rejects before coercing them into fatal stunts. It was high-concept, cheap to make, and easy to market. On the other hand, it was also a movie directed and co-written by Jeff Wadlow, a guy whose love for thrills is no match to his inability to hold a tone or coherently stage any real action. It turned a profit, though, and thus comes another movie based on something. This time it’s a TV show from the ‘70s.
Welcome to Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, where the dad jokes are poorly written and executed rather than ironically dumb. The cocktails taste like the point of the night when incompetence leads to musings on one’s past and the essence of human nature. The people are stupid whether they’re good or bad and the setting, shriveling under the constant rays of harsh studio lights, looks like a postcard—with all the shallowness of one. Is this a real movie or something from the 30 Rock universe that ended up in theaters? And if that’s the case, just when will we get the Fantasy Island/MILF Island crossover we so deserve?
Maybe that last part is a lost cause, but it really does feel like a possibility for a while. After all, the characters play like in-jokes that the movie isn’t even aware of. Here, they’re a group of tourists coming to visit the title locale where they make the acquaintance of one Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), who can discern what everyone’s ultimate fantasy is. He knows because—wait for it—each participant fills out a one-page questionnaire before arriving, and then it allows them each to live them out.
That isn’t to say that the script from Wadlow, Christopher Roach, & Jillian Jacobs actually allows the viewer to know who these people are. The movie begins as they arrive, and it’s off to the races getting to hear Melanie (Lucy Hale) talk about how much she still hates her eighth-grade bully, Sloane (Portia Doubleday). Elsewhere, Gwen (Maggie Q) laments having let the love of her life (Robbie Jones) go and the chiseled-from-stone Patrick (Austin Stowell) reveals his unfulfilled dream of being in the military.
There’s the comic relief as well in the form of stepbrothers JD and Brax (Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang) too, but the real point here is to see how people react to their fantasies. Well, it should be. The writers here have no grasp of the differences between archetype and stereotype. The actors, whether by their own volition or poor direction, overact almost every scene. There’s a cartoonishness to Fantasy Island that overrides anything resembling pathos, and while that could work if the movie stuck to a single lane, it’s never able to do so.
Take Gwen for example. Her loneliness defines her while her defeatist attitude—at least on paper—further removes her from everyone near her. That’s a basic observation that Wadlow sincerely approaches. Then come characters like JD and Brax whose existences feel like sheer filler. The movie separates them too, preventing any conflation or juxtaposition of their behavior from bubbling up, and by the time characters do cross paths, Fantasy Island goes from lame to incompetent.
It’d be one thing if a movie like Fantasy Island telegraphed its eventual derailment, but this is the kind that goes past lazy and into shameless.
Granted, not much of what makes up the first half is well done: Wadlow remains unable to stage a scene that consists of more than a simple tracking shot or a shot/reverse shot composition. Toby Oliver, all the while, shoots the landscapes and actors with such a shallow depth of field that the setting might as well be rear-projected. The pacing is off-kilter and the midsection is far more boring than it ever should have been. It’s only once Wadlow, Roach, & Jacobs go all out that they reach something so unfathomably stupid that it’s hard not to laugh at.
It’d be one thing if a movie like Fantasy Island telegraphed its eventual derailment, but this is the kind that goes past lazy and into shameless. It’s also when it scrounges up any real entertainment value, but by that point, it’s all for the wrong reasons. Maybe this little getaway will find an ironic cult following in the next few years or so. If it doesn’t, it’s no big loss. There’ll be another bloodless, PG-13 cash grab like it soon.
Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is now washing up in theaters nationwide.