Careful What You Wish For

Fantasy Island is back. Who wished for that?

The people who tell you “there are more tears shed over answered prayers” are people who weren’t going to answer your prayers anyway. I was a non-TV watching snob during Fantasy Island‘s six-year reign on TV, as it impressed upon its viewers the importance of not asking for trouble by wishing for anything. But who ever really ever gets away from television? Had I known that Satan (Roddy McDowell) turned up a couple of times during the series, I might have tuned into this long running annuity for that richly syllabled Ricardo Montalban.

Taking a grindhouse-lite turn with TV material, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island tells of a quartet of fantasies implemented by the Montalban’s enigmatic Mr. Roarke. It’s Michael Pena, temporarily rescued from playing brick-solid best pals and teddy bear types. This warm actor turns it down to neutral, trying to radiate world-weariness. The snake motif on the doors and elevators at his resort are a bit of a warning. Never mind entrusting your most secret dreams to him, you’d probably never take a business loan from a man who had a taxidermied cobra and mongoose in a vitrine on his desk.

The quartets that fly in, played by a group of small-network all stars, have easy fantasies. Ryan Hansen (so much a Bradley Cooper type that his character is named ‘Bradley’) and his Asian half-brother Brax (Silicon Valley‘s Jimmy O. Wilson) are there to be swingers with a swimming pool of bimbos. Brax is gay, but there’s a cabana full of willing poolboys there — you can always judge whether a movie is a little more evolved if the comedy gay character actually appears to get some action.

Buff cop Patrick (Austin Stowell) has daddy issues. His father was a hero killed in action during some military incursion into Venezuela in the 1990s — “what the hell was he doing there?” asks the solid left-wing viewer, frowning. Roarke enables Patrick’s military dreams; soon he’s being shot at in the island’s tropical highlands, where his dad waits with his squad, armed and suspicious. This is all like a bad episode of Twilight Zone.

Gwen (Maggie Q) feels that life had gone sour since she’d refused a marriage proposal. Now she’s allowed to be a wife and mother, but her new little five-year-old is kind of a goblin.

The meanest fantasies are the tastiest. Melanie (Lucy Hale, Katy Keene on the Archie franchise) yearns for payback on her high school bully Sloane (Portia Doubleday, the best actor in the movie). In a basement, Sloane is waiting for her, gagged and trussed up in a torture chamber. At first, Melanie is certain her victim is “a holograph, like Tupac.” There are electroshocks and cascades of toilet water to dump, but the best button on the torture console unfolds Sloane’s Facebook page. On another screen is the sex tape Sloane made, with the boyfriend that her husband doesn’t know about. It’s all ready to drag, drop, and show the world. 

Later, there are apologies for this nastiness after the two women run into an insurgent in the hills (Michael Rooker) who is trying to expose this island of deception. He’s a fountain of paternal wisdom, urging them to forgive and forget. It’s an odd movie that has a career long bad-guy like Michael Rooker ending up as the moral compass 

This is the only piece ‘o junk mall movie of 2020 that’ll filch ideas from Tarkovsky. Roarke’s ties to this mysterious island are explained in an enlightening line: “Roarke is the genii, and the island is his bottle.” Like an astronaut orbiting the wish-granting planet Solaris, Roarke’s dreams of someone he lost keep him enraptured. (The payoff of this story of answered prayers actually stung a bit.) As per Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the finale is a lot of wading through black water to get to the heart of this Zone where dreams come true.

The few critics who wandered out to see this were right. It wanders in all directions, it takes a great deal of desperate writing to twist around and explain who’s the actual bad guy, and the production design and costuming is disappointing. It’s nothing that couldn’t have been solved by cutting the lights, cutting the dialogue, and leaving the plot so cryptic and open that the audience would wander out asking, “What did I just see?”


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