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"Blumhouse's Fantasy Island" Review

When the trailer for what appeared to be the latest imagination-bereft rehash of an old television show that most younger moviegoers never watched (while Hervé Villechaize croaking, "Thee plaaane! Thee plaaaane!" is part of the common cultural shared reference bank, who remembers much about it and doesn't confuse it for The Love Boat? ) and the Generation X moviegoers probably wouldn't trek to a theater for (think: Charlie's Angels 2019 version with Kristin Stewart vs. the far superior 2000 version with Cameron Diaz) dropped, I rolled my eyes. "Who asked for a Fantasy Island movie?" I wondered. Then I watched it and realized that money-printing horror studio Blumhouse had given it a distinctively darker horror spin (as well as prefixing the title with their moniker.)

Following the old show's format a seaplane delivers guests the the tropical paradise presided over by the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña). This Very Special Episode's guests includes a young woman (Lucy Hale) whose fantasy is to get revenge on her high school bully (Portia Doubleday); a businesswoman (Maggie Q) who rejected a marriage proposal and wants a do-over; a cop (Austin Stowell) who wants to join the military to honor his dead war hero father who died when he was a child; and a pair of step-brothers (Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang) who want the fantasy of having it all and living a large party lifestyle.

With a final warning that all fantasies must play out to their natural conclusion, Rourke sets the guests off on their fantasies. Q says yes to her suitor (Robbie Jones) and wakes up with it seemingly five years later and they have the little girl she'd always dreamed of. The brothers have a PG-13-rated rager (the teen-friendly rating means they're plenty of bimbos, but no nudity; there's also little gore and one obligatory F-bomb) in their own party mansion with a safe room and armory.

But things turn darker when the cop finds himself immediately captured by soldiers and discovering they are from the unit his father sacrificed his life to save which he is also leading on that fateful mission. The real tipoff is Hale's fantasy, where she first believes she's simulating torturing her tormenter as a hologram before realizing the real girl is being hurt and she ultimately acts to liberate her.

As they escape, they are themselves saved from one of those Unstoppable Killing Machine guys by a grizzled Michael Rooker, who's been watching the various islanders from the shadows. He explains why he's on the island and shows them its true dark secret power.

As various fantasy scenarios turn more dangerous, one guest demands a new fantasy, one which seeks to undo the regret that spawned their original fantasy's basis. Rourke reluctantly allows it and we gradually realize what connects all of the visitors and how they all ended up in this group.

While it's not a pinnacle of cinema, I had a decent time with Fantasy Island. The cast is fun and attractive, there are some smart laughs, and while the horror and gore is muted by the rating, it actually exceeded my modest expectations, especially considering how director Jeff Wadlow's previous Blumhouse joint also starring Hale, Truth or Dare, was only so-so; something passable because we'd snuck into it. (He also directed Kick-Ass 2, which managed to kill that franchise by being too mean-spirited even with its edgy milieu.) Even with the twists, it's a little predictable, but again we're not comparing it to Lawrence of Arabia.

Looking at how it was killed by the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, I have a suspicion that they didn't remember how the original show went. I hadn't either, but my girlfriend remarked afterwards how the movie was just like the show in that everyone's fantasies always turned ironic on them.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.


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