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The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man is your garden-variety cult-horror remake: slow moving, if not anemic, lacking in scares, and failing to approach--and slightly sullying the name of--the original.


Out patrolling a California highway, officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) picks up a lost doll that will change his life forever. After returning the doll to the little girl who dropped it from her mom's station wagon, their car goes up in flames, rendering Edward hurt and unable to help them. After months of Edward trying to mentally escape the tragic scene with the aid of pills, he receives a little reprieve from his ex-fiancé, Willow (Kate Beahan), who calls for his help regarding her lost daughter. He promptly travels to the mysterious Summersisle, an island in Washington State, where Willow lives. There, life revolves around the matriarch, Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn), and a ritual known as "the Day of Death and Rebirth." Edward thinks therein lay the clues to the missing little girl, but each step forward in his investigation brings him that much closer to meeting the Wicker Man.


Cage is a star, but some of his bad choices and misfortunes have kept him from being a megastar. File Wicker Man under "bad choices and misfortunes"--Cage can't win here. The man's incapable of a bad performance, but he's somewhat miscast as a haunted California policeman--that description immediately doesn't fit the actor and calls to mind someone else--and the film's overall incoherence buries him in the end, more so than the rest of the cast. As for those supporters, Burstyn predictably fares best, though she's not immune to the bevy of ridiculous images the film serves up. As Cage's beleaguered ex-fiancé, Beahan (Flightplan), too, isn't bad, but she doesn't always look the part of a pagan-like village woman, even though her character had previously ventured into the real world. And turns--or more like cameos--from Frances Conroy (HBO's Six Feet Under) and Leelee Sobieski (Joy Ride) misfire horrendously.


Wicker Man is a remake of the 1973 (borderline) cult classic of the same name, automatically giving off stenches of "unnecessary" and "pedestrian," but director Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty, In the Company of Men) mostly fails to live up to even those expectations. LaBute, highly talented and often keen on much more offbeat projects, apparently tried for a mixture of Hitchcock mystery and Witness-like intrigue, but his modern update doesn't add up. The suspense just isn't there and in place of what should've been darker, more fitting explorations of the village--such as forbidden-fruit sexual undertones and opportunities for genuine horror moments, some of which are possible during the daytime, by the way--are by-the-book PG-13 elements. Towards the end, LaBute's script (which he co-wrote)--and movie--unravels as Cage goes all Steven Seagal on us, even karate-kicking women! Also, the film looks gorgeous, but Summersisle often appears more like a pristine getaway than a haunted village.

Bottom Line rated this film 1 1/2 stars.