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Wicker Man lacks original version’s spirit

Does a bout of acid indigestion come over you at the thought of watching another film butchered in the name of easy money? If so, you know how I feel about Neil LaBute’s remake of The Wicker Man (2006), which should be named The Weaker Man.

Having adored the original cult classic, I hoped the remake would be at least mediocre, but this movie does not even keep the spirit of the previous work. The sexuality and the warnings against closed-mindedness are gone. The fascinating depiction of the relationship between the Christian protagonist and a commune of pagans is also ripped away.

What remains is an awkward PG-13 plot in which a schmucky detective (Nicholas Cage) forsakes all logic to help an old ex-girlfriend find her missing daughter on an island of feminist pagans.

At the screening I attended, instead of gasping at “suspenseful” moments, the audience was laughing. For instance, upon discovering deceit, Cage ruins all tension by screaming, “You’re all little liars,” like a 5-year-old throwing a tantrum.

Cage’s policeman is unbelievably gullible and holds no regard for the law. He kicks in doors and sucker-punches women like the action hero he is not. These outbursts make the character seem psychopathic and more doltish than even his stunted dialogue suggests.

The villains themselves – save for Molly Parker, who brings a mischievous wit to the role of schoolteacher Sister Rose – seem as tacky as haunted house ghouls. If the actresses are not used as screen decoration, their performances are cheesy cult-talk with no real substance. The exception is Ellen Burstyn’s Summersisle, but only because she comes across as an amused matriarch rather than a sinister cult leader.

The mother, Willow (Kate Beahan), does nothing but look sad and beautiful while her daughter Rowan (Erika-Shaye Gair) lets her childish cuteness do all the acting.

On a good note, I was laughing nearly non-stop throughout the movie, especially the last fifteen minutes. Intentionally or not, this film is funnier than any recent comedy.

The visuals were also well done, with beautiful scenes of sunrises over hills and acres of forests and women dressed in lovely colonial-style costumes. The Wicker Man himself, though better in the old film, is still fairly impressive here.

Only watch this one-star film if you enjoy poking fun at bad movies. Otherwise, watch a well-crafted movie that actually makes a statement and rent the original Wicker Man (1973).