The Fantasticks (review)
Director Michael Ritchie’s The Fantasticks has been on the shelf for five years, and now we know why. A screen adaptation of the long-running Off-Broadway musical, this simultaneously flat and cartoonish film is, at a spare 86 minutes, still overly long and padded out with endless, insipid song-and-dance numbers. Joe McIntyre (ex New Kids of the Block) and Jean Louisa Kelly are passionless and sans chemistry as Matt and Luisa, teen would-be lovers who only think their stars are crossed — the family feud that forces them to meet in secret is a ploy by their fathers, Hucklebee (Brad Sullivan: The Sting) and Bellamy (Joel Grey: A Christmas Carol), to give their kids’ budding romance some spice. When a carnival comes to their little slice of faux-1920s American nowhere, the dads concoct a ridiculous plan to end the “feud” without the kids ever knowing the truth, and enlist the help of showman El Gallo (Jonathon Morris). What should be charming and magical is creepy, weird, and uncomfortable, from El Gallo’s “theatrical abduction” of Luisa to Matt’s seduction by the carnies into a bizarre bacchanalia — what wants to be The Wizard of Oz ends up feeling like Tod Browning’s circus nightmare Freaks without its dark, ironic appeal. Only Teller (Penn’s partner) as a Shakespearean trouper who does comically convincing death scenes has any charisma, and he never opens his mouth. Would that the rest of the cast had emulated him.
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