Director: Neil LaBute
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn
Let us go back in time to a simpler time. A time when Adam Sandler wasn’t peddling shit to the masses and looking suicidal whilst doing it, and a time where the world had yet to experience Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’, and Nicolas Cage was going bankrupt as the result of some bad realty investments. In fact, this entire movie’s existence, and many more starring Cage, can be attributed to that one simple fact; he was broke and desperate. He still found enough money to executive produce ‘The Wicker Man’ though, and this was something of a passion project for him. And, love him or hate him, the guy does have talent. His performance in ‘Adaptation’ is not only one of the strongest written characters in all of cinematic history, but Cage makes it his own. He is an Oscar-worthy actor, and though his career choices may not be the best, he does offer up great entertainment. He’s also a relative of Francis Ford Coppola, arguably one of the best filmmakers of all time. Which begs the question – where did it all go wrong?
‘The Wicker Man’ follows the story of a cop, Edward Malus, played by Nic Cage in a performance that I can only describe as “ill-suited”, who receives a letter requesting his help in finding a small girl. This girl went missing on an island in the Pacific, near Washington State, and we learn that the island is run by what is basically a pagan cult of women. The original ‘The Wicker Man’ back in 1973 had a similar plot, though that was set in the UK, and paid more attention to religious conflict. This effort plays as more of a “battle of the sexes” narrative. It had a budget of $40 million, which was entrusted to Neil LaBute – a man whose filmography aside from this is obscure, to say the least. The film returned a little more than half that at the box office, making it a flop, and it was widely regarded as one of the worst movies of the year, as it should be.
Why is the movie so bad? Well, it’s hilarious. It’s a mystery-thriller with horror archetypes thrown in, except none of it is done well. The script is nonsensical, the performances range from truly awful to just weird, and it just feels like wasted talent. Then why am I talking about it? Well, because it’s hilarious. Remember how I said Cage’s performance was “ill-suited”. After the first 15 minutes, I realised he wasn’t even in the same story. He’s this jolly guy who just wants to wander in and do his job, and he has this big smile on his face for a good portion of the runtime. Watching him perform this nonsensical and inconsistent character was a special kind of magic on screen. He single-handedly makes this movie watchable. There are so many good quotes that he has, that I still laugh thinking about some of the stupidity I was subjected to. Favorites include “NOT THE BEES!”, “What’s in there, a shark or something?”, “HOW’D IT GET BURNED?! HOW’D IT GET BURNED?!” and his “oh my god” line near the end. Seriously, Nicolas Cage is amazing(ly awful).
All of the other acting is atrocious. Cage’s ex-fiance Willow (played by Kate Beahan) is excruciatingly bad. Ellen Burstyn is just there, she doesn’t really do anything other than dish out some creepy smiles and speak utter nonsense. Diane Delano – the woman who plays Sister Beech – is basically just doing her best Kathy Bates impression the whole time. Nevertheless, all of their scenes with Nicolas Cage are so fun to watch.
Getting away from acting (but sticking with the negatives), the script is terrible. To start the film, Cage’s character experiences a trauma that has nothing to do with the plot of the film. But the trauma gets brought up at least six times throughout. I mean, there’s just so many flaws and an absurd amount of dream sequences. The very premise of the film, having Cage go this island, is implausible. He’s a cop in California and he starts conducting his investigation in Washington State. He does all of this without warrants, assaults suspects and uses deadly force completely unnecessarily. More importantly, he never actually does any investigating in a correct manner. The pieces are laid out so easy that a five-year-old could deduce the solution, but the movie has to happen first. And finally when we reach the “twist ending”, we get a giant exposition scene that just leads to brutal and disgusting torture. God, I love Nicolas Cage.
‘The Wicker Man’ is one of those “so-bad-it’s-good” movies; a cult classic for all the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t say I want to repeat my experience of sitting through this terrible-VFX-laden, aesthetically bland, audibly dull, uninteresting and implausible, badly acted, and overall, insultingly dumb movie. But damn, I sure did laugh my ass off watching it. Get some friends together and just enjoy poking all of the holes in this movie. Make a drinking game out of it (sip for every bee, or awkward Nicolas Cage smile, or dream sequence, or sexual innuendo, or every time you see someone in an animal mask). If the booze hasn’t killed your brain within the first 20 minutes, enduring the rest of the film certainly will. This is a real car crash of a movie, but for pure entertainment value, I kinda recommend it.