As Street Fighter should have been to Raul Julia, who died not long after appearing in that 1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme opus, this film version of the long-running Broadway play ought to have proven a great lesson to director Michael Ritchie. The lesson? Be careful, you never know what film will be your last. OK, so The Fantasticks isn’t as embarrassing as Street Fighter, and, Ritchie’s track record had always been spotty. For every Smile or The Candidate, there seemed to be a Wildcats or a Golden Child waiting in the wings.
Still, it would have been nice for Ritchie’s last film before his death in 2001 to be better than this visually interesting, yet ultimately ill-advised attempt to transfer an extremely slight stage show to the screen. The film has its moments — including a beautiful opening and an often striking look that straddles a bizarre line between realism and stylization — but there are too many false moves for it to really work.
The less said about the casting of new-kid-on-the-block Joseph McIntyre, the better, but it’s less this than the awkward staginess of the whole concept. Admirers of the show — and there must be many, since it ran for 40-odd years — may get more mileage out of it. But truth to tell, it’s exactly the kind of musical pointed out by people who say they just don’t like musicals.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke