Wicker Man, The (2006)

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 04/21/07 23:07:24

"I don't know, maybe it was SUPPOSED to be funny..."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Maybe his mother dropped him on is head as a child. Maybe his first girlfriend cheated on him. Or maybe his grandmother poked him as a young boy. Whatever it is, Neil LaBute REALLY doesn't like women.

What he does like however, is remakes - unfortunately he's decided to remake the wrong film. Personally I can see the appeal of remakes and don't mind them. The Fly, The Thing and Dawn of the Dead for example, are all creature features at heart with a good appeal for the remake treatment, and all achieved differing levels of success. But The Wicker Man? That defiantly odd, kooky and original Brit horror with Edward Woodward? Surely that's the kind of film that doesn't warrant a remake - and unsurprisingly, it fails in almost all the areas that the original succeded.

Nicolas Cage as Edward Malus takes over Woodward's role from the original, who is now updated as a traffic cop and relocated from Scotland to America. Edward is a man haunted by a tragic accident involving a young mother and daughter he was unable to save, when he receives a letter from Willow (Mollie Parker) an old girlfriend who has relocated to the island of Summerisle. Willow's daughter Rowan has disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and the only person who can help is Edward.

Arriving on the remote Summerisle, Edward discovers that it is a female dominated colony, where all the teaching and important roles are taken by women while all the men are strangely mute. It is an island governed by Lady Summerisle (Ellen Burstyn), who leads the villagers in the pagan rituals that they follow to help their harvests and honey production - beehives are the main source of income on Summerisle. Edward hears reports that Rowan mysteriously burned to death, a fate that is linked to the legendary wicker man - a major figure in their pagan rituals.

The basic set-up of The Wicker Man has remained intact, yet what LaBute has changed are the elements that made the original such a unique and suspenseful occult drama. Woodward's original policeman was an uptight devout Christian which led to a clash between his and the island's beliefs - the result being an ironic juxtaposition as the film asked was any system of religious belief more ludicrous sounding than any other in the cold light of day. Here however, that rich subtext is entirely missing. Edward is a man with no discernible belief in anything, thus negating the friction between he and the islanders. Instead of the seemingly rational, if different, people hiding a dark secret that the original presented, we have the islanders presented as sinister kooks from the start - imagine an island full of the family Klopek from The 'burbs and you'll have an idea of how this remake abandons all notions of subtlety and suspense. And while the remake managed to avoid the climax of villagers in pagan and animal dresses, looking silly, LaBute has no such luck here. It has the feel of an Ed Wood production, particularly with such random scenes as Edward finding a naked old man, covered in bee stings patiently waiting in Lady Summerisle's bed - a scene hilariously never commented upon by anyone. The original has a naked Britt Ekland cavorting around, getting Woodward hot under his puritanical collar - this one has a tramp with sores. Edward never starts out as a sane rational person either. The original has such an impact precisely because Woodward is so surefooted and resolute in his beliefs. Here it's just crazy old Cage again, making his meltdown entirely predictable. There's nothing to pull down in him, because he's a ruin anyway.

The biggest change is of course the fact that Summerisle is now a female dominated domain, allowing LaBute to let rip at his objects of fury, the fairer sex. All the women here are either victims, deceitful or out and out villains, emasculating their men and hindering Edward at every turn. This dislike reaches a spectacular climax where Edward starts to punch out any woman he can find.

Luckily, this is not a nastily misogynistic film, as it is at this point that The Wicker Man becomes a thing of comedy genius. This is mainly due to Cage who kung-fu kicks Leelee Sobieski in the face, before donning a bear suit to attempt a rescue mission whilst laying out any other woman who crosses his path. Cage's performance is one clearly performed on (or perhaps off) medication. With a permamently crinkled forehead, furrowed brows and uncomprehending eyes, he stomps around in a moody huff that gives the film it's unintentional hilarity. Whether it be his insult of "You bunch of little liars!" to a classroom of cute little girls, the fact that he couldn't look more uncomfortable riding a bike if he tried, or his crazy eye-rolling acting as he pretends he's being attacked by a horde of bees, it's a performance to treasure. The fact that he's so inept that he rides his bike through some beehives, managing to hit every one on his way is one thing, but it's his eventual descent into shouting that will break even the most stern faced person. "WHY IS IT BURNED? WHY IS IT BURNED? WHY IS IT BURNED?" is where it starts, to "STEP AWAY FROM THE BIKE!" right through to "NO! NOT THE BEES! MY EYES! AAAAAGH!".

LaBute may keep the infamous ending intact, and show the occasional flash of inspiration (a neat dream trick not seen since An American Werewolf in London), but Cage's ludicrous performance finally tips the film into the realm of camp from which it can never escape (critics note: the version reviewed here is the directors cut, which apparently removes a stupidly tacked on coda. This may be to the films benefit from all reports, but it also means we sadly lose Cage's off-screen cries of "AAAGH! MY LEGS!". We do get to see his legs being broken though, so maybe it's not all bad)

I'd like to recommed The Wicker Man as an unintentional piece of comedy gold, but as funny as the last twenty minutes are, you have to get through the entirely boring first 70 minutes. What I would recommed is searching youtube for the edited down version of the last twenty minutes - 2 or 3 minutes of the funniest stuff you're ever likely to see.

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