|The Wicker Man (2006)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski, Kate Beahen, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker
Director: Neil LaBute
Even before the opening credits began to roll on “The Wicker Man,” a remake of the 1973 cult British film starring Edward Woodward (best known from TV’s “The Equalizer”), two questions kept running through my mind: who in God’s name came up with the idea of remaking this thing, and how on earth did they convince enough people at Warner Brothers that it was going to be a box office success?
It must surely come down to two things:
1) Nicolas Cage was attached to the film.
2) No one working at Warner Brothers has ever seen the weird-as-shit original.
In this remake or re-imagining or whatever you’d prefer to call it, the setting is moved from Scotland to the US West Coast. California Highway Patrol officer Edward Malus (Cage) endures a traumatic on-duty experience when, moments after Malus stops a young woman and her daughter in their station wagon, their vehicle is struck by a semi while sitting on the side of the road. While on leave to recover from the incident, he receives a letter from his ex-fiancé, Willow (Kate Behan), who begs him for his help in finding her missing daughter, Rowan. Malus travels to the small island off the coast of Washington where Willow and Rowan live, and he quickly finds himself caught up in the strange goings-on of the people who live there.
Malus is understandably suspicious of the islanders’ claims of ignorance about even so much as the existence of Rowan, but, even so, he’s obnoxiously belligerent from the get-go, loudly and brashly demanding assistance from the islanders in his quest for Rowan…pushing, shoving, cursing, and dismissing their beliefs with a wave of his hand. (Funny how they didn’t leap to his assistance, huh?) Still, he refuses to give up his quest to find Rowan, leading him to a confrontation with the cloyingly sweet matriarch of the island, Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn).
Nicholas Cage never should’ve been allowed in this movie without having him sign a contract which stipulated that he couldn’t play the part like he usually does when he’s given an action role…but that’s exactly how he plays it. I kept waiting for him to begin a question with, “How in the name of Zeus’s butthole…?” In a film where odd people do odd things, including wearing animal masks and costumes during the course of pagan rituals, as soon as the viewer steps outside of the moment and stops taking it seriously, all is lost. Cage makes smart-aleck comments throughout “The Wicker Man” and comments on the weirdness of it all, and, as a result, there is no terror; in fact, during the film’s ostensibly climactic final few minutes, the audience laughed every time Cage made any sort of exclamation. Not exactly what director Neil LaBute was hoping for, one has to presume.
Cage isn’t the only problem with the film – the script has been adjusted considerably from the original version, and the changes and additions range from unnecessary to just plain stupid – but he’s certainly the most glaring. If his role had been played by another actor and without the distracting humor, the film might’ve been salvageable; as it is, it’s no surprise that Warner Brothers opted not to screen “The Wicker Man” before it opened.
When the closing credits began to roll, much muttering could be heard throughout the audience, mostly a mixture of apologies interspersed with comments about what movies they should’ve gone to see instead. Me, I just leaned over to my wife and, to the tune of “The Hallelujah Chorus,” sang the word, “Disappointed!”That summed it up nicely.
A full-length audio commentary track by writer/director Neil LaBute and co-stars Leelee Sobieski and Kate Beahan is about all that you can expect from this single-disc release of the film, and frankly, we couldn't care less.