September 7, 2006

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The Wicker Man (PG-13)
Nicholas Cage stars as a befuddled investigator in the laugh-out-loud hilarious horror film The Wicker Man, a remake of a 1973 British film of the same name that I now kinda want to see.

See, but not necessarily pay money for so here’s hoping it shows up on cable sometime soon.

It was somewhere in the mid-to-late 1990s that Cage began to lose everybody’s respect. But films like Adaptation and The Weather Man had started to win it back. It was as though Cage had learned how to make movies of some diversity and quality to make up for his lamer commercial ventures. The Wicker Man, however, completely defies this equation as it seems neither like a film likely to be commercially successful nor like a film that will be winning any Oscars. For that matter, The Wicker Man seems to be an excellent candidate for the Razzie awards.

Edward (Cage) is a California police officer recuperating from witnessing a horrible (but ultimately irrelevant) car accident. While on leave, he receives a letter from Willow (Kate Beahan), an old girlfriend who is living on an island off the coast of Washington state and is desperate to find her missing daughter. She begs Edward to help her find young Rowan (Erika-Shaye Gair), a child whose perfectly groomed hair and Little House on the Prairie outfit instantly identify her as evil.

Edward gets to the island — a private island he’s not technically supposed to be on — and finds the population to be a loony bunch dressed in Amish-meets-hippie garb and none too fond of strangers. The women seem to run everything and all call each other “Sister” and the men, what few he sees, are wordless and cowed. The island’s residents also seem suspiciously vague about what might have happened to Rowan, even vague about whether or not she ever existed.

Willow, however, insists that her daughter is still alive and on the island. Edward catches glimpses of what might be the girl or what might be a stress-induced hallucination. As he conducts the world’s most ham-fisted investigation, he finds that everybody appears to be hiding some kind of dark secret (probably having to do with the ancient rituals and human sacrifice he hears bits about).

Playing the part of the prickly “sisters” who inhabit the island and inhibit Edward’s search are a passel of generally admiration-worthy actresses — women such as Molly Parker (Alma Garrett on Deadwood), Frances Conroy (Ruth Fisher on Six Feet Under) and Leelee Sobieski (a promising young actress) who generally excel at building layered characters with complex and genuine personalities. Here, they all play grinning nutcases. What an ironic twist to this trip to Female Empowerment Island.

As Cage’s character gets crazier and crazier — “investigating” in the second half of the movie primarily by kicking in doors and yelling at the smirking sisters — the film gets funnier and, even as the movie shows scenes of bizarre natural treatments and disfigured people, it’s hard not to guffaw at Cage’s extreme overacting and the film’s operatic score. The movie is never once actually scary and — by spending the first film dropping anvils of foreshadowing — it never even manages to shock you with its goofy “secrets.” Most disappointing of all is that it fails to fulfill one of the promises of its genre; for a movie that suggests it will horrify you with the freakish aspects of a twisted culture, it never actually gets around to explain the culture. Bad acting I expect but, geez, don’t cheat me out of a good looney-religion back story.

The Wicker Man is a cheesetacular B-movie that fails even at getting right the sensationalistic parts of its hokey story. D

— Amy Diaz


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