Michael Pena Mr. Roarke
Maggie Q Gwen Olsen
Lucy Hale Melanie Cole
Austin Stowell Patrick Sullivan
Jimmy O. Yang Brax Weaver
Portia Doubleday Sloane Maddison
Ryan Hansen JD Weaver
Michael Rooker Damon
Parisa Fitz-Henley Julia
Kim Coates Devil Face
Summer is finally upon us, the third wave of Covid is starting to get under control in my province and we have been spending more time outdoors, thus the reason for not watching as much television of late. But, it has been more than 2 weeks since my last review, so I decided to give it a go once again. For this week, we decided to watch the latest adaption of Fantasy Island. Many people have fond memories of this weekly television show as it was a staple in most homes in the late 70’s. Fantasy Island as well as Love Boat, were my generation’s go to on night of television watching. For those people who were born much later, remember, during my youth there was no streaming services, and Blu-ray, DVD’s had yet to be invented, and even the venerable VCR’s, while in existence were only for the homes of the wealthy. The rest of us depended on either the old trusty antennae, (with rabbit-ears) or for the very lucky, there might have been cable service in their area. Also, in our house, as most homes at the time, we the children, were the parent’s remote controls to change the channel as well as move the antennae to get the best reception!
So with that in mind, we were left with what the 5 or 6 stations provided us on a weekly basis. Fantasy Island usually came on a Saturday night if I recall correctly and was a regular occurrence in our household when growing up. In a nutshell, the concept of Fantasy Island was that a guest would come to the island to have a fantasy come true. The wise and dapper Mr. Roarke (then played by Ricardo Montalban) and his ever present sidekick, Tattoo (Herve Villechaize) would welcome the arrivals. First with Tattoo running into the office shouting “The Plane Boss, the Plane” and Mr. Roarke serenely welcoming the week’s arrival, with “My dear guests! I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island!” Each week, a selection of mediocre celebrities would join Mr. Roarke on the island, sometimes get their fantasy fulfilled or learn a valuable lesson about themselves or a loved one. As a young kid, I did not mind the show, it was better than what was on at the time and I did not mind if the plotlines were extremely thin, the acting mediocre and the sets kind of lame. Hell, we had nothing else to compare it to, and without Fantasy Island and it’s predecessor on primetime (The Loveboat) where else would stars who needed a job or give a reminder to fans that they still existed do!
With all the previous comments in mind, let’s take a look at 2020’s version of “Fantasy Island”. While loosely based on the original show (titles, characters and theme), this version went for a much darker portrayal. This film did not make a lot of money at the box office, and was panned by some reviewers and critic’s, however, I was actually looking forward to watching it. This was for several reasons, first, it did bring back memories of my childhood watching the show as a family, secondly, I like several of the cast, primarily Pena, Q, Yang, Hale, Rooker and Coates. While they may not be A-listers in Hollywood’s hierarchy, they are solidly in the B category and usually take part in films or shows that pique my interest and keep me watching.
This film opens just like the series where a seaplane would fly over a pristine beach and plantation like house. A woman in this case, who we later learn is Julia (Fitz-Henry) runs into the house to shout the traditional line “The Plane”. Mr. Roarke (Pena) makes his appearance and strolls down to the pier to meet the aircraft. The hatch opens and the guests for this film exit the aircraft. So who do we have on board that will undoubtedly enjoy what the island has to offer? First we have Gwen Olsen, (Q) a stoic lady who carries a pained and lonely expression all the time. Melanie Cole (Hale), a young lady with a huge chip on her shoulder and an attitude to match. Stowell (Sullivan) a young man sporting Dog dags exits the aircraft along with Brax and JD Weaver (Yang and Hansen respectively). Brothers (by adoption) who are just out have a good time. With the opening sequence completed, the very “unique looking” porters take everyone to their rooms so that they can prepare for their Fantasy’s to come true.
At the “Welcome Drink” ceremony, Roarke (Pena) says that they are all there to live out their fantasies and desires. However, if they want to continue they must see each fantasy out to the end and natural conclusion, and that it is the island that is fulfilling their fantasies, not him. Julia (Fitz-Henley) watches all this with a very strained look on her face. The reason for this will come out later in the film.
Just to touch on the fantasies a bit, and not wanting to give out too much of the plot, here is what everyone has come to the island to fulfill:
Gwen Olsen (Q): Gwen (Q) is searching for redemption of a past decision. She wants to change her mind in a pivotal moment in her life where she could have had it all. A loving husband, a wonderful child and life of happiness. Due to her fear, she said no and from that time on, her life seemed to fail horribly.
Melanie Cole (Hale): Melanie is a troubled young lady with a huge chip on her shoulder and attitude to boot. Coming across as a rebellious youth and headstrong, she wants to wreak revenge on all who have wronged her in her life. Especially Sloane Maddison (Doubleday), who was the stereotypical mean girl in high school and started Melanie’ path to emotional hell, not to mention feelings of little worth and an abysmal level of self esteem. In Melanie’s eyes… Sloane ruined her life. Her fantasy is the most vengeful of all the guests.
Patrick Sullivan (Stowell): Sullivan (Stowell) is a police officer who always wanted to join the military. He wears a set of dog tags that were not his, and all he wants to be is a hero and be honourable. A kind hearted individual, he is about to find out what being a hero truly is.
Brax and JD Weaver (Yang and Hansen): The Weaver brothers (brothers by adoption) are just out to have fun. JD, the older brother has always given up his dreams to help his younger brother and get him through life. They are the stereotypical frat brothers party people. High-fiving all the time, punctuated by the odd chest-bump, these two individuals don’t have enough intelligence combined to power a light-bulb. They just want to “have it all!” for their fantasy, and as Roarke warns them at the outset, if you have it all, someone will want to take it from you in the end. (…. oooh dramatic foreshadowing!!)
So, I do not want to give up too many plot points, but let me put it this way, this is a new twist on the Fantasy Island shtick, such that there will be more horror and gory parts than light fanciful moments. We will find that all the fantasies actually intertwine with some unexpected results…. but…even though there are some twists to the tale, the outcome is predictable.
What did I like about this film? First, I liked the premise. For once, this is one show that I was looking forward to see the movie. I can’t say the same for the fecal matters that were favourite shows from my youth and then became horrible movies 20 years later (i.e. Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky and Hutch) Fantasy Island always had a bit more imagination involved. Also, we loved the scenery, as we can’t go on any holidays due to COVID, we must live vicariously through the movies and television. So all the beach shots and tropical settings were always considered a bonus. As I stated previously, I liked the main characters as well. They usually give half decent performances, and are in films/programs that I like.
What didn’t I like? Well, even for the actors that I liked, they gave uneven performances. Roarke (Pena) did not really have any chemistry with the other characters. Also, Damon (Rooker) was almost a throwaway character. What part did he really play here? Even if he was not introduced, I don’t think it would have really changed the story arc to much. Even though I like Rooker and his crazy, mad scientist look about him, he was not really value added. Also, there were some definite goofs with respect to the Melanie Cole (Hale) character. Some of the dialogue that she says when alone does not fit with the outcome. Again, I don’t want to give out the plot, but when you watch the film you will see what I mean. However, this is not the fault of the actress, but the writers if you know what I mean. I also felt that Maggie Q and Michael Pena did not get the opportunity to flex their capabilities. I felt that they were really underutilized in this film. I also found Devil Face (Coates) to be a little over the top. But, it did add some camp to the film, maybe a bit of an homage to the campiness of the original series.
While we are discussing characters, lets take a look at the main cast:
Michael Pena as Mr. Roarke: I have mentioned several times that I like Pena as an actor. He is extremely versatile and can play a comedic or an action role with equal ease. However, he is usually a side-kick or supporting actor. A supporting role is his wheelhouse, to be the primary lead in a drama/horror film, he did not seem to carry it well. His character was pretty one-dimensional and really lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. There were a few glimpses of Pena’s talent through the film, but they were few and far between. Not his greatest performance, but it could be the fault of direction or screenplay, not necessarily the actor.
Maggie Q as Gwen Olsen: This is another case where an actor’s talents were not used to it’s fullest. Stoic and/or pained looking throughout the film made it hard for her character to connect with others. While she appeared to be the brightest of the guests in figuring out what was going on and help solve the issues at hand, it took a while to get there. Her chemistry with co-stars, while better than Pena’s, still had something to be desired. Her character was integral to the solving of the mystery, but her delivery, seemed forced. Again, maybe the fault of direction or script. She does have greater skill than what was presented. Much the same as the aforementioned actor, not her best role, but then again, not her worst either.
Lucy Hale as Melanie Cole: Hale actually had the most opportunity to project her range. From her snarly attitude at the outset of the film, seeker of revenge, fearful and full of panic to rage yet again. She did the full gambit and did it well. Her character was pivotal to the film. Her chemistry with her nemesis, Sloane (Doubleday) was done well. We thoroughly enjoyed her performance in “Fantasy Island” and I have not doubt that I will enjoy seeing her in future productions.
Austin Stowell as Patrick Sullivan: Even though Stowell’s character took me the longest to like, in the end I did. He held on to his fantasy in a believable fashion, especially when the world was falling apart around him. I had only seen him in a few productions previously and primarily in much smaller roles, this was the first time that I had actually noticed him throughout the film. For a little factoid, Stowell and Pena worked together before in 12 Strong (if you are interested in 12 Strong, I have also reviewed this film and it is located on this website) ! Not a bad performance from Stowell overall, and I am sure I will see him in future films/shows.
Jimmy O. Yang as Brax Weaver: Brax (Yang) was actually my favourite character in the film. He balanced goofiness, fear, comedy and bravery all at the same time. Playing the “dufus” adopted brother to JD, he complimented Hansen’s own ineptness. They worked well together and his scenes were quite well done. I have seen him in a few movies and tv shows in supporting roles and always enjoyed his part. From what I read about him he has truly made an easy transition from stand-up comedy to acting. He is another actor that I look forward to seeing in future roles.
Portia Doubleday as Sloane Maddison: Here was another actress and part that I enjoyed in the film. I had only previously seen her in “Carrie” another remake from my childhood, and her presentation of a mean girl in both films (Carrie/Fantasy Island) were extremely well done. She easily transitioned from the wounded and scared young girl and back to bitch in the blink of an eye. As the lifelong nemesis to Cole, she not only enhanced the scenes that she was in, but also made them entertaining. As with Carrie, she did quite well in this type of character, and I hope that in future roles she leaves the Mean Girl shtick and tries to broaden her horizons.
Ryan Hansen as JD Weaver: Hansen gave an admirable performance in this film. Usually relegated to much smaller roles in comedies and television, it was nice to see him in an ensemble piece where he managed to get the same screen time as his co-stars. He worked will with Yang, and continued to play the well meaning imbecile well. Not a break out role for Hansen, but still one that was enjoyable.
Michael Rooker as Damon: First off, let me say, that I usually like Rooker in all of his roles and characters. However, in Fantasy Island, while his acting was fine, his character was almost a throwaway role. While he was wandering around the island looking more and more like a refugee from Robinson Caruso, it was hard to take in, even when it was explained why. Was this character essential to the Sloane/Melanie portion? Not really, it could have been written with either of the girls figuring it out, and/or maybe a lesser character, either way, Rooker’s talents were actually wasted in this film. Hopefully the next project I see him in, he will be far more entertaining.
Parisa Fitz-Henley as Julia: Fitz-Henley’s role and part of the film was actually quite predictable. It did not take long to figure out her importance to Mr. Roarke and the reason why. Her chemistry with the other characters seemed a little wooden, much like her character. This could have been due to the actress, or the direction, as I have not really seen her in many roles, I can’t tell at this time.
Kim Coates as Devil Face: I only included Coates in this review because I always like his twisted characters. He can look like a psychopath and carry it off like few others. While he played the un-named Devil Face, his accent and mannerisms were almost cartoonish. Sure, this could have been part of the camp that is Fantasy Island, but I wish that they did not play it up so much. He would have been scarier with a persona similar to the character he plays on Sons of Anarchy, then trying to lay on a cheezy accent, but it did add to the camp factor of the movie. As with some of the actors mentioned above, not his best role, but surely not his worst either.
So overall, were we entertained? Actually, yes we were. We enjoyed the storyline and the characters. It was not a great film by any means, but it had enough elements in it (characters, story, theme, cinematography) to keep us watching. I would only recommend this film if you were a fan of the original concept and of the key actors, if not, maybe you might want to give it a pass.
Our rating: 4.5/10
If you are interested in other films/shows starring the main cast, please consider the following recommendations:
Michael Pena 12 Strong, The Mule, Ant-Man and the Wasp, CHIPS, The Martian, Fury, Ant-Man, American Hustle, The Lincoln Lawyer, World Trade Center
Maggie Q Designated Survivor, Allegiant, Divergent, Insurgent, Nikita, Live Free or Die Hard, Mission Impossible III, Rush Hour 2
Lucy Hale Pretty Little Liars
Austin Stowell 12 Strong, Bridge of Spies
Jimmy O. Yang Crazy Rich Asians, Space Force
Portia Doubleday Carrie
Ryan Hansen ChIPS, Santa Clarita Diet, Central Intelligence
Michael Rooker The Dark Tower, Guardians of the Galaxy (Franchise), The Walking Dead, The Bone Collector, Tombstone, Cliffhanger, The Dark Half, JFK, Sea of Love
Kim Coates Sons of Anarchy, Entourage, Prison Break, Black Hawk Down
Till Next Time!!