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Review: The Wicker Man

All the fertility rites in the secluded Pacific Northwest island of Summersisle can’t bring life to this barren remake of 1973’s The Wicker Man.

The Wicker Man
Photo: Warner Bros.

All the fertility rites in the secluded Pacific Northwest island of Summersisle can’t bring life to Neil LaBute’s barren remake of 1973’s The Wicker Man, which unwisely replaces its source material’s unclassifiable, inimitable Hammer-horror-by-way-of-hippie-mysticism vibe with a drearily straightforward supernatural thriller attitude. It’s a reconfiguration that might have produced modestly beguiling results were LaBute capable of delivering anything approaching a good shock scare (of which there are none) or a memorably frightening vision aside from the climactic burning effigy image replicated from Robin Hardy’s original (no dice). As in that cult classic, this redo focuses on a cop, Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage), who goes in search of a missing child in Summersisle, a mysterious farming commune where women hold the power and men are their mute servants, crop harvests are all important, and secrecy is the standard code of conduct. Malus is tormented by his recent inability to save a young girl from a tragic traffic accident, and LaBute casts his hero’s quest to find the daughter of former fiancé and Summersisle native Willow (Kate Beahan) as a redemptive second-chance at doing what he loves the most: helping others. The detective’s attempt to medicate his nightmare-scarred psyche by popping pills is his primary personality contrivance, though it’s Cage’s bizarrely imbalanced performance—with the actor’s oscillation between wise-ass flippancy, frantic violence, and exaggerated exclamations of disbelief making it seem like he’s deliberately breaking character—that fails to ground the film in reasonably plausible terra firma. Not that any of his castmates fare better: Molly Parker, Frances Conroy, and Leelee Sobieski overact to the point of ludicrousness as three of the community’s estrogen-empowered pagans, while Ellen Burstyn—in a far cry from Christopher Lee’s delicious turn as the cult’s Sun God leader—feigns arrogant malevolence as Summersisle’s Mother Earth/Queen Bee. LaBute’s Wicker Man is so devoid of chilling atmosphere or rational character behavior (as when Malus takes a late-night investigative swim, by himself, in a claustrophobic underground well) that the story’s underlying concerns about male-female power dynamics become hopelessly trivial. Kudos to LaBute, however, for at least staging what may be the most unexpected and inappropriately funny cinematic sight of the year: Cage karate-kicking doll-faced Sobieski square in the face.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Frances Conroy, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski, Diane Delano Director: Neil LaBute Screenwriter: Neil LaBute Distributor: Warner Bros. Running Time: 97 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2006 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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