Only a Truly Demented Mind Could Adapt ‘Fantasy Island’ Into a Profoundly Inexplicable Horror Flick

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CREDIT: Columbia/Sony Pictures

Starring: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, Michael Rooker, Parisa Fitz-Henley

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Few Stabbings, a Little Bit of Gunfire, One F-Bomb

Release Date: February 14, 2020

Fantasy Island is the most unapologetically nuts movie I’ve seen in quite a while, and … I kinda loved it. It’s ostensibly based on the late 70s/early 80s TV show of the same name, which had one of those “exactly what it says on the tin” premises. Each episode, guests would arrive on an island where, for a price, they would be allowed to live out a fantasy of theirs. I have never seen an episode in its entirety, but based on clips I’ve seen, the film, which scooches the “be careful what you wish for” setup into full-on horror, feels like a very liberal adaptation. Or at least, it must be, right? Somebody surely would have told me at some point during my thirty-plus years on this Earth if the show were this unhinged. Because what we’ve got in theaters now feels like the result of an all-night bender in which some folks were like, “Hey, remember that weirdly iconic high-concept show from a few decades ago? What if it were a little more … twisted?”

Michael Peña takes over for Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, the island’s proprietor who guides the guests through their fantasies. He welcomes a quintet of thrill-seekers: the relatively nondescript trio of Melanie (Lucy Hale), Gwen (Maggie Q), and Patrick (Austin Stowell) as well as fratty stepbrothers Brax (Ryan Hansen) and JD (Jimmy O. Yang). The latter’s fantasy is simultaneously the most enjoyable and the most stereotypically indulgent. All they want to do is lounge around by the pool with a bunch of hot babes and studs as they yell out party-hearty bromides like “Fantasy Fricking Island!” It’s so cranked up to 11 that it feels like self-parody except for the fact that Hansen and Yang are comedy vets who know how to calibrate that over-the-topness just so. This is a very silly movie.

As for the others, Melanie wants revenge on an old bully from school (Portia Doubleday), Patrick wants to live up to the example of his hero soldier father, and Gwen wants a re-do with an ex-boyfriend who proposed to her. They all assume that their experiences are something like highly sophisticated virtual reality or live-action role-playing (despite Roarke’s insistence on the legitimacy of it all), so they roll with it when dead loved ones and other impossibilities start popping up. With the just-too-perfect nature of everything, it’s clear that we’ll eventually get an explanation of how Roarke is really pulling it off. You might have a sneaking suspicion that that explanation will be deeply stupid, but (for me at least) that’s part of the fun.

So here’s the deal: if your favorite part of Lost was all the mystical mumbo-jumbo about how the island itself was basically sentient and wish that that formula could be applied to any media that takes place on a remote tropical island, then Fantasy Island is definitely for you. If you would also like a hundred twists that gradually make less and less sense piled on top of each other, you need to go see a psychologist immediately, but also, this movie is for you, and also also, you and I are kindred spirits and we should be friends. Writer-director Jeff Wadlow, I don’t know what you ingested or what exists within the core of your soul that led you to take us on this journey, but whatever it is, I salute you!

Fantasy Island is Recommended If You Like: The most fantastical elements of Lost crossed with the glossiness of modern horror and a dash of the sadism of Saw, all mixed up in a cocaine-fueled blender

Grade: 3 out of 5 Regrets

‘Like a Boss’ Goes Broad When It Could Have Gone Weird

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Coolidge, Billy Porter, Ari Graynor, Natasha Rothwell, Jessica St. Clair, Karan Soni, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen

Director: Miguel Arteta

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Rating: R for Totally Open Sexual Discussions Between Close Friends

Release Date: January 10, 2020

In the spirit of being experimental with my movie reviews in 2020, I have decided to review Like a Boss as if someone going to see it thought it were somehow based on the SNL Digital Short of the same name. Now, this might be a little hard to conceive of, because even though there are indeed movies based on SNL sketches, there hasn’t been one in a while, and a two-minute one-off would be an odd candidate for expanding out to feature film length. But after overcoming this initial disappointment (or non-disappointing plain-old realization), this theoretical moviegoer can be comforted by the fact that this movie stars people like Tiffany Haddish and Salma Hayek, who have hosted SNL, and people like Rose Byrne and Billy Porter, who would surely be great SNL hosts if given the chance. On top of that, the movie starts off with a demented sketch comedy-esque sensibility, with bits involving accidentally getting high around an infant and a baby shower cake that features a head crowning out of a vagina and chocolate sprinkles as pubic hair.

Alas, after a rollicking opening ten minutes, Like a Boss settles into a standard issue broad studio comedy groove about Haddish and Byrne as a couple of lifelong friends and business partners struggling with massive debt. There are a few elements that suggest it could have been something a little more offbeat, in particular Hayek’s huge pearly white chompers. There is a bleached-to-perfection, but also slightly degenerate quality to her cosmetics mogul character that someone like John Waters would surely be proud of. It sounds like a solid fit for director Miguel Arteta (who previously directed Hayek to a fantastic performance in the simmeringly toxic Beatriz at Dinner), but the hijinks of the story pull him away from his knack for weirdos puncturing the niceties of the world around them. So in conclusion, if you’re in the mood for the Lonely Island Like a Boss, you’ll probably be even more likely to decry the fact that Business Lady Like a Boss doesn’t allow its comedic imagination to run completely wild.

Like a Boss is Recommended If You Like: Gags about spicy food, Drone-based physical comedy, Makeup tutorials

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Controlling Stakes

This Is a Movie Review: Be Wary of the Spectacle of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ Stay for the Characters

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CREDIT: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC

This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Tan Kheng Hua, Chris Pang, Sonoya Mizuno, Pierre Png, Nico Santos, Jimmy O. Yang, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Excessive Partying and a Nasty Message Written in Blood

Release Date: August 15, 2018

Ever since I have noticed the buzz building for Crazy Rich Asians, the title has had me worried that I wouldn’t able to relate. I’m not talking about the “Asian” part (and I’m certainly not talking about the “crazy” part). No, what I’m talking about is that four-letter word right in the middle. Sure, it would be nice to have enough money to pay off all my debts, but amassing a fortune into the billions feels plainly excessive. And Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel does nothing to dissuade me from that notion. When we enter the film’s first Singaporean mansion, I am immediately overwhelmed by the real estate per person. And then we learn that this dwelling is actually modest by this country’s standards, and I guess I’ll have to say the Serenity Prayer a few more times. But the good news is that Crazy Rich Asians wants us to be skeptical of insane wealth to an extent.

The biggest takeaway to be had from this big-hearted rom-com is the danger of making assumptions, a problem that can befall anyone, no matter their net worth. Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) assumes that her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) is a man of modest means. That is hardly the most damaging assumption, but it does mean that she is in for plenty of surprises when he flies her into Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and she learns that he is in fact a member of one of the country’s wealthiest families. Far more consequential are the assumptions made about Rachel, especially from Nick’s domineering but also impressive (and frankly, occasionally likeable) mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). She objects to Rachel as a potential daughter-in-law, not because she is an outsider, but because of what type of outsider she is, assuming that as an American, personal fulfillment is more important to her than building a family. Accordingly, the requisite final act misunderstanding is not some phony moment between Rachel and Nick, who are far too honest with each other to not be able to work things out. Instead, it is a background check that drives a wedge of emotional manipulation that can only be cured by selflessness on all sides.

Ultimately, Crazy Rich Asians does not win me over to the lavish lifestyle, but it does successfully convey the traditions that lead to creating a familial empire. Judging by the reactions of the largely Asian crowd at the screening I attended, this is an accurate and resonant portrayal. There was plenty of whooping and laughing that indicated intimate recognition of a pan-Asian exchange of culture, the immigrant experience, and (presumably) key moments from the book. We may not need a billion dollars to be happy, but I now see the potential value in learning how to play mahjong or attending a wedding in which the aisle is flooded with water.

Crazy Rich Asians is Recommended If You Like: Rom-Coms with an unapologetic cultural flavor

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Jade Rings