‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new Fantasy Island movie is a real mess. For those of us who remember the TV show of 40 years ago, it was a charming lightweight sort of comedy where the charming Mr. Roarke played by Ricardo Montalbán helped by his assistant Tattoo, Hervé Villechaize (with his famous line “de plane, boss, de plane”) welcomed a couple of people who learned life lessons but generally had nice happy endings.
The new film turns that on its ear. Greeted by a more sinister Roarke (Michael Peña) guests are told their fantasies will play out to their “logical conclusions.” If you have any sensitivity at all, you know things will go bad fast. The old show assumed that our fantasies were all nice, were sort of vanilla. Not this movie.
The guests — and there are quite a few — all have special fantasies. They have been brought to the island because they are “contest winners,” but the rewards reflect their own psychological issues, as played through their fantasies. Melanie (Lucy Hale) was tormented by bully Sloane (Portia Doubleday) in school and wants revenge. Randall (Austin Stowell) wants a chance to meet his father, who died as a soldier. Brad (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) want a wild time in a wild party environment with easy women and drugs. And Gwen (Maggie Q) wants to replay a decision that she feels cost her the “happily ever after” she would have had if not for a bad decision.
The biggest problem is that the story lines are wildly different, and they wind up intersecting. It becomes a mixture of Saw with Full Metal Jacket with Hangover with About Time. The styles, none fully carried out, just do not mesh, and as a result, nothing makes sense. At the beginning, we bounce from one story to the next. Watching Melanie realize that Sloane is really being tortured allows some small of amount of shocked acting, but after a while, it becomes clear what that logical ending will be. And that creates a change, and the spirit of the film changes. The shift between the four different story lines creates rapid stylistic changes. Watching a man suddenly plunged into wartime conditions with surprising results can be shocking, but when a quick cut brings you to a hedonist party, all the tension is broken. And this happens time after time.
Added to that, it is hard to care very much for any of the leading protagonists. I am old enough to remember the original show, and the guest leads were generally fairly well-known performers, and their fantasies were more romantic or familial. In this movie, who cares that a couple of frat boys who haven’t grown up want to really party, or that a woman has not been able to move past her high school days.
And then we get to the last part of the movie: the mess. Suddenly, all the fantasies start to blend, and it becomes difficult to figure out. Damon (Michael Rooker) has been hiding out on the island and suddenly mixes into the different story lines, and all we have is confusion. It becomes clear that they are all in one person’s fantasy, but things change so quickly, it is hard to figure out whose, and all of the motives are suspect. People who are good guys for most of the movie change. Nothing seems real. Even Roarke’s fantasies come into play. Having a whole group of endings sometimes works, but not when there is no reason behind them.
Peña steals the movie. A far more sinister Roarke than Montalbán, he has a wonderful sense of timing. He uses language and pauses brilliantly, saying a lot even when seeming to say almost nothing. Rooker is also good. Of the rest, I did like Maggie Q, but she is mostly wasted.
The Chinese have an interesting curse about things like this: “May you get your heart’s desire.” Often what we think we want is not what is best for us when “carried to its logical conclusion.” I wanted a good movie, and this mess is what I got — at first simply boring, and then confusing.
This movie is one to miss.