Producers: Jason Blum, Marc Toberoff and Jeff Wadlow Director: Jeff Wadlow Screenplay: Jeff Wadlow, Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs Cast: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, Portia Doubleday, Ryan Hansen, Parisa Fitz-Henley and Michael Rooker Distributor: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures
The original ABC TV series of “Fantasy Island,” which ran from 1978 to 1984, might have been a pretty horrible program, but it wasn’t a genuine horror. That’s what producer Jason Blum and writer-director Jeff Wadlow, who previously collaborated on the awful “Truth or Dare,” have made of it—a horror movie that’s genuinely horrible, its stupidity being exceeded only by its dullness.
In a move that recalls ABC’s attempted 1998 reboot of the original, which bombed of course, Wadlow and his co-writers have ratcheted up the supernatural elements of the premise while emphasizing their potentially fatal consequences. The fantasies here turn out to be more nightmarish than satisfying as they collide and replace ostensible hopefulness into what emerges as nothing more than a contrived revenge plot, complete with zombie-like villains.
The picture begins with Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley and her boss, the mysterious Mr. Roarke (colorless Michael Peña), welcoming their five new guests, who have each won trips to the purported paradise. Brothers JD (Ryan Hansen, obnoxious in Dax Shepard mode) and Brax (goofy Jimmy O. Yang), who want the “time of their lives;” Patrick (stolid Austin Stowell), who wants to play soldier to honor his dead soldier dad; Melanie (Lucy Hale), a hottie who, in turns out, fantasizes about humiliating Sloane (Portia Doubleday), the mean girl from her past; and Gwen (subdued Maggie Q), a reserved woman still grieving her failure to accept the marriage proposal offered by Rocklin (Robbie Jones) years before.
The fantasies—which, Roarke warns them, will have to follow the “natural course” determined by the island to their ends—begin, but they quickly grow awry and begin to intersect in weird ways. Other figures intrude on the action, among them a grizzled guy in the forest (Michael Rooker) who shows up when characters get into trouble and a character called Devil Face (Kim Coates), who leads a squad of masked gunmen. Even Patrick’s dead father shows up.
As things grow more and more complicated, the movie becomes decidedly chaotic, and it takes more attention than the material deserves to keep things straight, especially since the script is constantly tossing in contrived plot curveballs, which in the last act culminate in a series of revelations and resolutions so absurd that they leave the movie a complete mess. Along the way, there are a few gross moments (like a “Hostel” reminiscence early on), but generally the picture moseys along surprisingly pokily, overstaying its welcome by clocking in at nearly two full hours.
You have to give a certain degree of credit, though, to the behind-the-camera craftsmen (save for Wadlow, of course, whose direction is pedestrian). Marc Fisichella’s production design has some elegance, and cinematographer Toby Oliver provides glossy widescreen images; and one feels sorry for editor Scott Albertson, who tries desperately to give shape and coherence to the constantly shifting storylines, even if he doesn’t always succeed. Bear McCreary’s score, though, bangs away mercilessly.
As usual nowadays, the movie concludes with the suggestion of forthcoming sequels (along with an especially lame “reveal”). By the close of the movie though, you’ll definitely be inclined to agree with the survivor who acidly remarks that she just wants to get off this damned “Island.”