Fantasy Island: ‘The pain! The pain!’ for guests and viewers alike

Fantasy Island: ‘The pain! The pain!’ for guests and viewers alike
The original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1984, was one weird beast. Many remember it as nothing more than its contemporary The Love Boat minus the boat, as a rotating series of B-list guest stars sought romance in exotic realms. Others recall Tattoo (French actor Hervé Villechaize) in the bell tower at the start of each episode, calling out: “Zee plane! Zee plane!”

But there were some major elements of the supernatural, particularly in later seasons. Some people swear to this day that the episode “The Nightmare” remains the scariest thing they ever saw on television. And Ricardo Montalbán, who played “your host, Mr. Roarke,” once said that he saw his character as a fallen angel in charge of purgatory.

Between that kind of background, the popularity of TV’s afterlife-themed Lost in 2004, and Hollywood’s desire to reboot all things ’80s, it’s a wonder Fantasy Island didn’t make it to the big screen sooner than it has. But be warned: In spite of its Valentine’s release date, this is more horror than romance. And not very good horror at that.

What I wouldn’t give for the Harlem Globetrotters to show up and save the day.

It opens with Michael Peña as the new Mr. Roarke – no Tattoo in sight this time – welcoming a planeload of guests. They include Melanie (Lucy Hale), whose fantasy is to exact revenge on a childhood bully; Patrick (Austin Stowell), a cop who always wanted to be a soldier; and Gwen (Maggie Q), who regrets saying no to a marriage proposal years ago. There’s also JD and Brax (Ryan Hansen, Jimmy O. Yang), brothers whose fantasy is the least specific and most clichéd; they want to live like millionaires.

So, romance and adventure and B-list stars; check, check, check. But from the get-go, there’s something a little off about this island paradise. Maybe it’s the way none of the employees except Roarke’s assistant Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley) ever cracks a smile.

No, I take that back. There’s something hugely off from the get-go, including walls that drip what looks like blood, a crazy guy lurking in the jungle with a machete, and zombie-like creatures that are briefly seen before vanishing.

As the fantasies get rolling – Roarke darkly reminds his guests that they must play out to their natural conclusions – things go very bad indeed. Director and co-writer Jeff Wadlow has said the movie has a Westworld meets Cabin in the Woods vibe, but I’d argue it’s not as smart as the former, and neither as scary nor as funny as the latter. Though there are some inadvertent chortles, as when one character whines: “Not to be negative, but we’re gonna die here.”

From left, Austin Stowell, Michael Peña and Lucy Hale in Fantasy Island. Christopher Moss / Sony

Archipelagicly speaking, Fantasy Island is one part Shutter Island, one part Ship Trap Island from The Most Dangerous Game, and one part Whatever It’s Called Island from Lost. Alas, precious little Gilligan’s Island – what I wouldn’t give for the Harlem Globetrotters to show up and save the day.

Instead, the movie hums along in a minor key of fear, until it starts throwing one twist after another at viewers, each one making a little less sense than the last. Without wading into the deep lagoon of spoilers, let’s just say that Mr. Roarke has his own secret agenda, and that some of the guests have more in common than they think.

But I’ll leave the last word to your host: “Fantasies are like dreams,” he tells the guests. “You rarely remember the details, but you always remember how they made you feel.” He’s right; hours after disembarking from Fantasy Island, I could barely recall the nuttier plot twists, but I have a distinct recollection of being mildly bored.

Fantasy Island opens across Canada on Feb. 14.

1.5 stars out of 5

Blatchford died this morning in a Toronto hospital, where a circle of close friends and family kept a bedside vigil

She was instinctively kind, had an alert and well-exercised radar for the plight of the underdog, the little guy, the person or group never near the head tables of life

All of Toronto knew this was her story, but for just one day, it was mine

Christie Blatchford dead at 68: Here, we take a look back at some of her memorable, most recent contributions at the Post
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