September 6, 2006

Wicker Is The Worst Material For Furniture

Nic Cage and Ellen Burstyn in The Wicker Man

Periodically, films will not be available for review before their release and Neil Labute's new movie starring Nicholas Cage, The Wicker Man was one of them. This became a bit of a thorn in the Cinecultist side over the last few weeks because we had an assignment to review it. So, with pride (and a notebook) in hand, CC reluctantly shelled out $11 of our hard earned dollars for the first screening on Friday. We won't lie to you and tell you it was a happy experience, mostly Wicker was like the furniture material boring, lack luster and in a few moment, completely laughable.

From the first moments of this movie, Labute plays it completely by the book. First up, rote psychological causality. Cage's character Edward is a hardworking, good guy cop in California. However, when he pulls over a young Mom and her daughter to return the little blonde girl's dolly, his do gooder-ness is thwarted as the car is slammed by a semi before it bursts into flames. Edward is understandably rattled by this emasculating experience, so when a pleading letter from his former fiancee arrives asking for help finding her missing blonde daughter, Edward leaps to the rescue. From this point on, we're subjected to one tiny blonde in danger fantasy from Edward after another. Every time there's a lull in the action, a blondie pops up and then is mowed down but an imaginary semi. It's distracting to say the least.

Meanwhile, Edward arrives on the mysterious island of Summersisle and doesn't get a warm welcome. In fact, no one likes interlopers from the mainland here and even the ex is being oddly stand-offish. If you've seen the original 1973 Wicker Man, you'd expect this to be the point where the movie launches into one odd encounter after another with the islanders intimating their aberrant sexual and religious practices. But here, Labute's film becomes surprisingly timid and instead veers into all of this nature girl, Queen Bee in her hive imagery. Ellen Burstyn plays the Queen Bee, aka Sister Summersisle, who runs the whole compound but she comes across as more benevolent than creepy. Molly Parker, as a school teacher, is a little menacing in the way she stares down Edward after he bursts into her classroom, but a few mean looks hardly adds up to a serious horror movie.

We're loathe to give away the ending but if you've seen the original, the remake ends in pretty much the same fashion, only with a Black Widow coda tacked on at the end. Is that supposed to be Labute's big wet willy goose, that sometimes women are sexual aggressors? Fatal Attraction had the same thesis almost 20 years ago, but at least that had some fear of feminism traction at the time. Here, it makes for about as flaccid a summer horror flick as you can get. If only Labute had acknowledged some of The Wicker Man's camp possibilities and encouraged Cage to do more of a La Depp self-parody performance. Then we might have had at least a fun movie, instead of this dour, boring clap trap.

Cinecultist's friend and fellow Movie Binger, Josh Horowitz will be interviewing Labute in a few weeks at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble, so maybe Labute will address some of these Wicker questions at that point. (Friday, Sept. 22 @ 7 p.m. -- mark your calendars!)

Posted by karen at September 6, 2006 4:21 PM