WICKER MAN, THE
(director/writer: Neil LaBute; screenwriter: from the 1973 screenplay by Anthony Shaffer; cinematographer: Paul Sarossy; editor: Joel Plotch; music: Angelo Badalamenti; cast: Nicolas Cage (Edward Malus), Ellen Burstyn (Sister Summersisle), Leelee Sobieski (Sister Honey), Molly Parker (Sister Rose/Sister Thorn), Diane Delano (Sister Beech), Kate Beahan (Sister Willow), Erika-Shaye Gair (Rowan); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Nicolas Cage/Norm Golightly/Avi Lerner/Randall Emmett/John Thompson/Boaz Davidson; Warner Bros. Pictures; 2006)
“Ill-advised Hollywood remake.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
One thing is for certain, the original 1973 Brit cult classic, written by the late Anthony Shaffer and set on a Scottish island, is far superior to this ill-advised Hollywood remake. Writer and director Neil LaBute (“In The Company Of Men”/”The Shape of Things”/”Nurse Betty”) ineffectively helms as if he was the one running through the woods in a bear outfit and not Nic Cage, who plays the kind but dumb cop who because of a pagan ritual called the Day of Death and Rebirth does run through the woods garbed as a bear. The film was so ridiculously bad, that the film’s highlight happens to be that unintentionally funny scene. LaBute succeeds only in making the occult horror story inert, as he removes the things that made the original provocative and creepy such as men being in charge of the island (they’re now browbeaten stallions who are subservient to the gals), the colorful traditional folk tunes, Britt Ekland doing a nude ritual dance and, most importantly, the main protagonist’s Christianity and fanatical zeal; the filmmaker instead goes heavy on the mumbo jumbo about an ancient goddess religion being run by a group of evil shrews. Without the religious background there’s nothing left worth telling, as LaBute neuters it to fill it instead with his usual misogyny.
The film opens with Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) as a motorcycle cop out on patrol in California, who inadvertently causes an explosive highway traffic accident that kills a mother and daughter in an unregistered car. Malus takes a leave of absence and sits home staring at the four walls while haunted with recurring nightmares of his futile rescue attempt and is filled with guilt as he pops pills. When he receives a letter from his ex-fiancée Willow (Kate Beahan) that her young daughter Rowan (Erika-Shaye Gair) is mysteriously missing on a remote private island called Summersisle, in the Pacific Northwest, the cop seeks redemption and dons a sports coat and tie, slaps on some cologne, brings along some self-help tapes, packs his rod and goes to find the girl. Malus discovers it’s a cult community of women living within the framework of a 19th-century pagan society, through dress, lifestyle and no modern conveniences, who support themselves by being honey ranchers and organic farmers.
The investigation never goes anywhere, as the island’s Queen Bee overseer, Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn), stonewall’s it and no one cooperates with Malus. The cop, who is allergic to bee stings, off course, gets bitten and suffers along with the viewer of this third-rate movie. It takes a long time before the sad sack cop, good at giving off bewildered looks of hopelessness at what is obviously a weirdo island, eventually realizes there’s something dangerously heathen going on in these parts that has to do with ancient pagan rituals; though, anyone with just half a brain could have figured that out with all the big hints thrown around right off the bat. In any case, it should take the viewer no time at all to realize this movie is a bomb and Cage has embarrassed himself again by appearing in another embarrassingly bad film (“National Treasure”/”Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” to name a few others).
Other actors making bad career moves are: Molly Parker as the community’s schoolteacher, Francis Conroy as the physician/photographer, and Leelee Sobieski, who of all things, gets knocked out with a karate kick by Cage. All the gals are addressed as sister and are named after plants, which gives the film a connection to nature it hardly deserves. There’s lots of bees buzzing around to add to the menace intended, but the only mystery that lingers is why this film was made. The smart viewer should have a revived interest in seeing the DVD of Robin Hardy’s chilling 1973 version, one that’s actually creepy in a good sense, that stars Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and Britt Ekland. When Brit, the weak link in the original, out acts everyone in this remake, then you should have an idea what you’re getting yourself into by buying a ticket to this plot hole filled inane farce.
REVIEWED ON 9/4/2006 GRADE: D