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Wicker Man, The (2006) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

Image Based on a 1973 British film starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee that’s a cult favorite, “The Wicker Man” starring Nicholas Cage just misses all the way around. Like the original, this “Wicker Man” poses as a thriller, mystery, and horror movie. It’s more successful in the beginning segments that introduce Cage as California Highway Patrolman Edward Malus.

The movie opens at a sedate pace in a small town where Malus is just one of the people in a diner; he seems to be focusing on dealing with problems in his life. That’s why he’s buying the self-help tapes to listen to while he’s patrolling on his motorcycle. This set up is quietly contained and quite different from the tragedy that happens soon after.

While on the highway, Malus finds a doll. He stops and picks it up, then drives on ahead and spots a station wagon that has the likely culprit. When he returns the doll to a beautiful blond girl, she throws it back out again, across the highway.
As Malus goes to get the doll, an eighteen-wheeler slams into the parked station wagon. Malus rushes over to help, but he can’t get the mother or the little girl out of the car. A few seconds later, it explodes. Later, however, it turns out that the body of the mother and daughter are missing.

Cage does an admirable job in the low-key heroic moments here. Normally his onscreen persona tends to run to loud, larger-than-life protagonists, not always heroes. In Malus, at least in the first half of the movie, Cage builds a low-key, average guy who’s been damaged by fate. Still, there are parts where Cage comes across as Cage and sounds like himself as well, and that can be disconcerting. In the midst of his despair and anti-depressive drugs, he gets a letter from Willow Woodward, an ex-fiancé who left him flat several years ago and never let him know why she bolted. The letter states that her daughter, Rowan, is missing from Summerisle, the Puget Sound island where they live. Thoroughly shocked at the turn of events, haunted by the memory of the mother and daughter that have gone missing after the station wagon was smashed up, Malus decides to check up on Willow and her missing daughter.

This part of the movie progresses slowly and doesn’t really add anything in the way of character or real action. Everything is geared to getting Malus to Summersisle. Once on a ferry out to the island, Malus thinks he sees the little girl again. The image of her getting run down by becomes a staple of the film, but none of it is ever explained.

Out at Sumerisle, the surroundings are picturesque. The British Columbian background, although it’s supposed to be an island in Puget Sound, is beautiful. The montage of scenes is breath-taking on the HD monitor. Whatever production designer Phillip Barker used to create the look works. When Malus sets foot on the island, it’s like he’s plunged backward in time three or four hundred years. The buildings, the woodlands, and the dresses worn by the women all hearken back to an earlier era.

Cinematographer Paul Sarossy takes advantage of the widescreen image—every outdoor scene is an eye-popping extravagance of beauty. Unfortunately, this is also the section of the movie where common sense starts breaking down and Nicholas Cage’s acting starts getting too “big”. The turning point is in the hotel when he talks briefly with Willow (Kate Beahan), then turns on all the women and starts yelling at them, threatening them that if they don’t tell him where Rowan Woodward is, he’s going to see charges pressed against anyone responsible.

Gaping Plot Hole #1: When a child goes missing, there are federal agencies that swing into action. The Amber Alert has gotten a lot of play in the media lately. It’s hard to believe that Edward Malus, a trained policeman, wouldn’t immediately call for reinforcements, especially after he starts thinking that foul play is going on. That would be automatic.

Gaping Plot Hole #2: Malus would know that the women there could order him off the island at any time. It’s private property. All it would take is a word to the right authorities and he’d be gone. When they didn’t do that, he should have realized that something was amiss. Most casual viewers will feel their Spidey senses going off about then. I immediately knew Malus was in the stink, and I hadn’t seen the original movie.

Kate Beahan does a good job as Willow, Malus’s ex-fiancé. She does a lot with her eyes and body language that implore the viewer to want to believe in her and protect her.

Molly Parker acts in dual roles, first as Sister Rose, the school teacher, and Sister Thorn, another worker on the island. She carried both roles off equally well, but the scene when she’s riding the bike in the crow costume is eerie. However, neither of the roles carries any real weight in the story.

Frances Conroy plays as Dr. Moss. She’s solid as the physician, but hardly there. Anyone could have played the small role she had. Later, in the scene where she saves Malus from the bee sting, she tells him that she didn’t use the epinephrine to get rid of the anaphylactic shock that was shutting down his airways. She says she cured the attack by using the old ways, but she never mentions what those old ways are.

Leelee Sobieski plays Sister Honey and holds down another throw-away role as temptress. She’s pretty and easy to look at, but scarcely accounts for any meaningful screen time.

Diane Delano as Sister Beech gets my vote for the creepiest woman on Summersisle. She put me in mind a lot of Kathy Bates with her severe hairstyle and lack of makeup.

Ellen Burnstyn, with second-banana billing after Nicholas Cage, is over the top as the island’s matriarch. She delivers the necessary speeches at the appropriate time, but does little to liven up the story or the screen. She’s a beautiful woman and gets a chance to dress up and act totally strange and all-seeing.

There’s no way to talk about the second half of the movie without giving away too much of the plot’s twists and turns. Malus keeps following up on clues and tidbits of information he finds, yelling at everyone he comes in contact with, and jumping into the middle of waiting traps a first-grader would spot a mile away. This part of the movie actually begins to feel like a video game. Malus goes here, collects the necessary information, goes to the next place, collects more information and leads, and moves inexorably toward the end. Most viewers will probably guess the ending before they get there.

The original “The Wicker Man” has stood the test of time to go down as a cult favorite. Perhaps Nicolas Cage’s version will eventually, but not any time soon. His devoted fans might enjoy this one, but the horror and thriller crowd will probably turn their noses up at it.

Even more insulting, there are hardly any extras at all. The audio portion is done in Lossless, but there’s hardly any soundtrack here to take advantage of that feature. The commentary is okay, but there could have been more. Unfortunately, after seeing the movie most viewers probably wouldn’t have been interested.

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