01/10/2006. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
Yikes! Talking about an unintentional comedy of errors, says Frank. Writer-director Neil LaBute's meandering and goofy-minded horror/suspense thriller The Wicker Man will garner more spontaneous chuckles than an overactive feather tickling a sensitive underarm. This doesn't bode very well for a moody piece that's supposed to be intriguing in its macabre skin.
The Wicker Man (2006) Warner Brothers
Despite the talented crew (both on screen and off) that's attached to this laughably erratic and silly-minded spookfest, The Wicker Man is tragically hollow in its haunting bite. What a crying shame that a disciplined filmmaker of LaBute's capabilities ("In The Company of Men", "The Shape of Things") has concocted a disjointed disaster of an edgy mystery that even our canine klutz Scooby Doo and his cockeyed cohorts wouldn't bother trying to solve.
The Wicker Man is based on the early 70's British cult classic flick featuring sophisticated yet eerie character actor Christopher Lee. Of course its updated remake boasts an impressive cast headed up by resilient Oscar-winner Nicholas Cage in what amounts to be one of his more unfocused, embarrassing moments in front of a camera. LaBute has written this scattershot screenplay (adapting Anthony Shaffer's original script) thus rendering the consensus that the 1973 edition looks and feels like Citizen Kane in comparison. Whereas the 33-year old blueprint had a wicked sense of cheesy provocative impishness that defined the early polyester period of the decade, LaBute's millennium remake feels utterly cluttered and confusing.
Californian motorcycle police officer Edward Malus's (Cage) life is changed forever when he graciously pulls over a station wagon to return a lost doll to a little girl. But a few moments later, an errant truck crashes into the car thus the little girl and her mother instantly perishes in the nasty explosion. Obviously Malus is both saddened and burdened by the devastating loss of these people. The fact that he couldn't save them from their fireball vehicle remains a constant psychological struggle for the guilt-ridden law enforcer. The solution to ease Malus's pain is pill-popping and wallowing in an abundance of sorrow. Soon, Edward Malus will get his chance to embrace the vibes of redemption.
To provide Malus with a "second chance" to save a little girl once again (hopefully with better results), a mysterious letter with no postmark arrives on the tortured cop's doorstep from his former lover Willow (Kate Beahan). There's a desperate plea in the correspondence begging Malus to investigate the disappearance of her daughter Rowan (Erika Shaye-Gair). It has been years since Willow left Malus and he's still holding on to the emotional hurt caused by her sudden departure. Nevertheless, Willow trusts her former suitor to find Rowan and get to the bottom of her missing status. So Malus agrees to assist his ex-fiancée and track down the absent child.
Willow is stationed on a private Pacific Northwest island known as Summersisle. This is a place where the customs of the people are traditional in their brash pagan worshipping. Plus, the fact that Summersisle consists of predominately females makes for a puzzling fish-out-of-the-water scenario for the inquisitive Malus. Frustratingly, Malus is up against a wall concerning the cultural climate on this isolated setting that's being run by the dominating presence of blue-faced goddess Sister Summersisle (played with ridiculous conviction by Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn). The timing isn't exactly a great one as Malus finds himself poking around for Rowan's informational whereabouts during the festive pagan ritual known as "The Day of Death and Rebirth".
Time is running out and the hunt for Willow is annoying the ritualistic locals that are taken aback by Malus's inconvenient investigation. They merely taunt him and play manipulative mind games by denying the existence of Rowan. In fact, Edward Malus will dig into other matters that may cost him more than just being a nuisance to the pagan practitioners that consider him intrusive during their seasonal acknowledgement.
What has Willow dragged Malus into that he's not quite prepared for in terms of the secretive sensationalism that persists? Will Malus ruffle feathers to the point of no return regarding the ancient ways of the Summersisle surroundings? Can the deception and murderous intentions unfold without involving Malus any deeper than he is capable of handling? And will Rowan's body turn up unharmed or will she meet an untimely death much like the other little girl in Malus's recurring nightmare? As for the Wicker Man...hey, we will just have to stay tuned, huh?
There is some indescribable on-going foolishness about The Wicker Man that begs some serious consideration. Oddly, LaBute never really gets the audience invested in the religious spiritualism of Wiccah. The opportunity to spotlight such an unusual spiritual journey could have been suspenseful, intense and curiously in-depth for those that have no concept behind this philosophical movement. Instead, LaBute's flourishes about this distinctive free-spirited "practice" is treated like some demonic sideshow without capitalizing on or delving into its unfamiliar principalities. With such a communal connection of sisterhood and the Wiccah doctrine, The Wicker Man could have delivered a cynically irreverent commentary on the feminist slant with such offbeat vigilance. But LaBute's dunderhead of a drama simplistically blows smoke without really making a believable fire.
Suffice to say that The Wicker Man may be one of the most loopy and lame-brained concoctions to come out of Hollywood this year given the firepower of talent attached to this magical misfire. With woefully stilted acting, comatose direction, hammy writing and an overall feeble production that's more wooden than your grandfather's aging rocking chair, all the Wiccah-related spells in the universe couldn't excuse this potion from tasting unpleasant.
Cage is known for being a risky actor but to bog one's self in mindless material isn't necessarily being brave and boundless-it's being downright faulty. Whether Cage's character is beating up cult-like cuties or traipsing through the woods in a bear costume (yes, you heard this correctly), The Wicker Man becomes more banal by the minute. And watching revered veteran actress Burnstyn's painted blue face reminded me of the attention-getting bone-headed football fans looking for camera time on the sidelines of an animated football game.
The movie tosses in the arbitrary supporting roles of selected "sisters" Honey (Leelee Sobieski) and Rose (Molly Parker) that serve awkwardly as Cage's "caution bearers" while the resident physician Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under") looks like she'd rather be playing dominoes than partaking in this strange brew.
The curse behind The Wicker Man could be broken if you are willing to suspend all participation behind this monumental whimsical waste of a movie.
© Frank Ochieng 2006