As someone who was a fan of Jeff Wadlow’s efforts on Truth or Dare, it brings me no pleasure in saying that his latest project, Fantasy Island (2020), is a bit of a misfire. Not only is it about 20 minutes too long, but the film’s various storylines meander and never quite come together in a satisfactory way, and some of Fantasy Island’s feel-good moments come off cheesy and unearned as well. That being said, this amped up remake of the popular TV series has two saving graces: Michael Peña and Lucy Hale, and they do their very best to keep things afloat here with their respective performances.
The premise of Fantasy Island (2020) is pretty straightforward if you’ve ever seen the hit series—strangers come to the island for the purpose of living out their wildest fantasies, ultimately fulfilling some aspect of their lives that they feel is lacking. For this version, Wadlow and his co-writers Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach really lean into the genre elements from the show to extreme lengths, delivering a much more horror-fied vision of what could happen if someone’s fantasies took a dark turn, fulfilling that time-old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Playing host for this iteration of Fantasy Island is Michael Peña as Mr. Roarke, who steps into the iconic role that brought the legendary Ricardo Montalbán into audiences’ homes each and every week during the late ’70s and early ’80s, and he makes for an enigmatic presence here. As Roarke now lives in service to the mysterious island, he welcomes a new group of guests, including Melanie (Lucy Hale), Randall (Austin Stowell), Elena (Maggie Q), and brothers Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), who all want to live out their own respective fantasies, aware that their dream scenarios might not go exactly as planned. Which, of course, because this is a horror movie, is exactly how things go down.
While the overall narrative structure to this new Fantasy Island just has way too much going on, including conspiracy plots, plus a major reveal that changes the whole trajectory of the narrative involving characters who seem to switch storylines repeatedly, there are some aspects I did enjoy. As mentioned, I thought both Peña and Hale give everything they have to Fantasy Island, and I did like that the writing team dives into just what exactly makes the secretive locale tick, making these fantasies possible in the first place. There’s an intoxicating allure to the way the film was shot, making it easy to get roped in as a viewer, and I did enjoy some of the nods that this new story made to the classic television series as well.
Truth be told, because of the immense amount of story going on in this iteration of Fantasy Island, I do wish Wadlow and company had been doing a TV series reboot of this property rather than try and shoehorn everything into a single film’s narrative, because I feel like that may have served all the ambitious ideas going on in this script better than one movie ever could have. Clocking in at nearly two hours, Fantasy Island feels like it's just spinning its wheels for the final 45 minutes or so, deflating any sort of response viewers might have to some big reveals later on in the film that should feel monumental, but ultimately left me saying to myself, “Oh, okay then.”
Movie Score: 2.5/5