I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Wicker Man (2006)

When I read that the unrated DVD of THE WICKER MAN REMAKE has a SHOCKING ALTERNATE ENDING!, I was a little confused. Because if you’ve ever seen the original, good version of THE WICKER MAN you know this can only SPOILER end one way: an outdoor barbecue featuring Nic Cage in a central role. What could the SHOCKING ALTERNATE ENDING be? He doesn’t get burned alive?

The movie is a pointless and weird re-jiggering of the original. It’s not really the crazed spectacle I was hoping for, at least not from beginning to end. If you’ve seen the original you know where it’s going, and it’s not all that exciting to see him wander around a weird farm colony island looking for this missing girl and getting frustrated that nobody is cooperating. But oh boy does it have its moments.

The Wicker ManI heard this movie was completely misogynistic, but I’m undecided on that one. Sommerisle in this version is a matriarchy with Ellen Burstyn in place of Christopher Lee. They are all intimidated by the male presence of Nic Cage and he’s freaked out by them. He gets stuck in a well and probaly other vaginal symbols that I’ve forgotten. Most of the characters in the movie are women and they’re all evil except for a nice lady cop at the beginning (this movie’s equivalent of a Tony Shalhoub token good guy Arab character). It definitely plays out like a woman-hater’s paranoid fantasy, but there are some signs that it might just be a big joke on gender relations. Cage is frustratingly lax about asking the women to explain what’s going on, but then whenever he does he interupts them and doesn’t listen to what they’re saying at all. He’s also pretty belligerent, yelling at people sometimes for no reason, tearing off kids masks, and when he goes into a classroom he thinks nothing of erasing a chalkboard covered in meticulous notes just to write down one name that he has already said out loud.

They could’ve gone a more obvious route and have him just be a chauvinist or a womanizer. This way it’s more subtle and maybe not intentional. Either way it’s pretty hilarious to watch this asshole freak out at the end yelling “YOU BITCHES! YOU BITCHES!” Nic Cage definitely punches out more women in this movie than any since at least PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED. He actually fights Leelee Sobieski, throwing her over a table and kicking her so she flies against a wall. He punches out a butch inn keeper so he can steal her bear costume. Then, while in the bear costume, he punches out another woman.

Now, in any other movie where Nic Cage punched out a lady while wearing a bear costume, it would be the most awesome thing ever. GHOST RIDER would’ve been almost watchable if it featured this turn of events. NATIONAL TREASURE would have somehow seemed forgivable. LEAVING LAS VEGAS… he probaly would’ve gotten two Oscars if it had had a bear suit punch-out. I mean, almost any character on film – that would add some layers to. What is it about this treasure hunter that he would not only punch out a woman, but would do it for a bear suit, or while wearing a bear suit? That is a dark character, that is a psychology worth exploring. In this movie, unfortunately, they put it in a context where it almost makes sense. But it’s good. I’m not sure any major actor has done anything this weird since the days of Marlon Brando’s ice bucket hat.

You will believe a man can put on a bear suit and punch a woman in the face.

In this version the Sommerislians make honey instead of apples, and their colony is based on a beehive. So Burstyn is the queen bee, the men are called drones and they just do work and don’t talk. And just like bees in nature, these women like to find a well-meaning cop who’s allergic to bees, seduce him, carry his seed, abandon him, then years later trick him into coming to the island and send him on a wild goose chase and then break his legs, pour bees on his head and burn him alive in a giant wicker man full of livestock. (I am assuming that is what bees do in nature but I have not checked wikipedia to be sure, sorry, no time.) Like in the original DOUBLE-SPOILER they succeed, and hopefully this sacrifice will help bring the honeybees back to all the hives everywhere, not just on Sommerisle.

One of the production companies involved is Emmett/Furla, familiar to fans of the Steven Seagal DTV era. Like those films this is full of weirdly amateurish storytelling that makes the whole movie feel off balance. The best example is a scene where Cage sees some guys loading wood onto a cart. He comes over and offers to help, but as he helps lift one piece of wood he knocks the entire cart full of wood out and onto the guy. So then he helps the guy up and leaves. Now the guy has to pick up all the wood again, and Cage just abandons him as if he’s satisfied with the amount of help he has provided. Weird storytelling ineptitude like this is normal in low budget movies that are put together on the fly and that nobody is expected to ever watch, but it’s unusual in a nicely photographed mainstream studio movie with a movie star and a well known director (Neil Labute).

Things get weirder in the PG-13 theatrical cut. The SHOCKING ALTERNATE ENDING! is actually the same but a little longer and showing some of the things that you only heard in the PG-13. The one major difference is that they put a weird helmet on Nic’s head and dump bees into it. The bees give him a beard and sting the hell out of him as he yells “OH, NO, NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES! AAAAAA! OH NO, MY EYES! MY EYES! AAAAAAAA RRRRRRRRGHHHH!!” (You’ll be quoting it for months.) This entire sequence was missing in the original release, but they still left in a shot of him with a face swollen by multiple bee stings. So that must’ve been a little jarring.

(The SHOCKING version also drops the original epilogue that had cameos from James SPIDER-MAN TRILOGY Franco and Jason FREDDY VS. JASON Ritter.)

In GHOST RIDER Cage’s character was obsessed with jellybeans and monkeys. In this one the must’ve-been-a-Nic-Cage-suggestion touch is that he buys a self help tape called Everything Is Okay. You never hear him listening to it, but the significance is that later it gets stolen from his luggage, signifying that in fact everything is NOT okay.

Cage does use his overacting super powers a little bit. The movie is best when he flips out and either yells at somebody for no reason or punches somebody for a good reason. There’s no way to do justice to it in writing, but if you’ve seen the movie I think you may agree that “HOWDIT GETBURNED!? HOWDAGEBURNED!?” may be the greatest overacting of Cage’s career. Which is saying alot.

And I don’t really think he’s overacting here, but for some reason it’s pretty amazing to see a guy like Nic Cage crying “Oh my god! Oh my god!” as women are about to burn him alive. You just don’t expect to hear that kind of whimpering from a star of his caliber.

I have to admit, I am a little fascinated with this movie. Even after listening to some of the commentary track it’s an unsolved mystery – I got no idea what they were trying to pull. Apparently Johnny Ramone was a huge fan of the real WICKER MAN movie, and told Nic Cage to watch it, and then as a tribute to Johnny Ramone they bought the rights and then remade it into this unrelated, completely ridiculous movie. What a stirring tribute to a guy from a rock band people like.

But as much as I am glad I saw it, I cannot really recommend this movie to normal people. Instead, I say check out the highlights that are available on youtube. You will get most of the good parts and they’re probaly even better out of context.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, May 18th, 2007 at 8:09 pm and is filed under Horror, Mystery, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

16 Responses to “The Wicker Man (2006)”

  1. So, now Neil LaBute is remaking DEATH AT A FUNERAL, a perfectly enjoyable little black comedy, which came out in fucking 2007, in English, with an American theatrical release, a great cast, and a fairly positive (if not exactly lucrative) response. The twist? Its now a mostly black cast (except Peter Dinklage, who plays the same role he JUST FUCKING PLAYED IN THE ORIGINAL). It even has the same writer and title!

    I’m beginning to think that maybe LaBute is actually some sort of crazy Andy Kaufman-esque performance artist who is trying to make some kind of weird meta point about the art form while merely pretending to make real movies. Seriously, I don’t know what other explanation there could be!

  2. Yeah I just assumed that since Chris Rock and LaBute worked together already that was how he got the job, but I like your theory better. And yes -I didn’t know we were at the point where we were remaking BRITISH foreign films from 2 years ago.

    I always joke about “it’s time to remake Mean Girls” but I can see it happening now.

  3. I got a question: why does no one care when the Bollywood people remake everything under the sun, but when its Hollywood everyone gets up in arms?

  4. Have you been on enough Bollywood forums to know that they don’t mind remakes?

  5. Brendan – I guess we sort of put ‘remakes’ and ‘remakes of foreign films’ in different catagories. I mean, plenty of J-horror remakes were just a few years out, and even THE DEPARTED was only like 4 years after the original film. But I guess the rationale was that sad as it is, the language and cultural barriers in foreign films keep a pretty big portion of the American public from ever seeing them, so cranking out an American remake is a good way to get the story to a larger audience while it still has some excitement built up from its original run.

    But with DEATH AT A FUNERAL, that ain’t the case because it was already released theatrically in America and it was always in English. Its not like this is even some radical reimagining. It has the same writer for chrissakes, and they didn’t even bother to find another little person actor. Might as well get the same guy, hell, he probably still remembers his lines. One less script to photocopy.

    As for Bollywood, they get a pass because:
    A) They get excused for the same reason American remakes of foreign movies are understandable, if not preferable.
    B) I’m fairly confident in saying, without having seen it, that their version differs from the original in some fairly major ways and
    C) Who can even speculate on why Bollywood does anything?

  6. When I saw DEATH AT A FUNERAL I thought “This is pretty good, but you know what would make it awesome? Misogyny.” I’m glad LaBute recognised it’s true potential.

  7. Also, I would have liked to see Nicolas Cage playing the dwarf.

  8. Crusty — if LaBute had endwarfened Nic Cage a la Gary Oldman TINY TIPTOES then this remake would have actually been worth making.

  9. Plus does DEATH AT A FUNERAL even count as a British movie? I thought it was directed by Frank Oz. That’s why I never watched it. Stick with the puppets, buddy. Sorry.

    I don’t really get this one either but I happen to have read an interview with Chris Rock somewhere so I know it’s all his fault. He said he loves the original but that nobody he talks to other than comedians has ever heard of it so he wanted to remake it. I assume he hired LaBute because he’s a huge fan of THE WICKER MAN and knew him from being in NURSE BETTY so he pulled a few strings.

  10. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that exactly how this ungodly mess got started, with Oscar winner and poor crazy bastard Nic Cage doing the same thing with the (God rest his soul) Edward Woodward Wicker Man?

  11. Yeah, I don’t get this whole “I liked the movie but most people haven’t seen it so I decided to spend several million dollars remaking it so that most people will confuse it with my movie and it’ll become even more obscure.” You want to call attention to an underrated movie, get a blog.

  12. You’d think both LaBute and Rock would have learned their lesson about remakes by now. Thats why I’m now leaning towards the meta-performance-art angle. Surely you can’t make the Nic Cage WICKER MAN, make one minor film with Sam Jackson, and then think, ‘hey, you know what I should do? Another remake!’

    I’m glad Rock is a fan but jesus man, its body isn’t even cold yet! At least give the DVD a few years to catch on! If Rock had his way, they would have remade OFFICE SPACE in 2001!

  13. Did anybody see LAKEVIEW TERRACE? I don’t think I reviewed it but it’s actually a surprisingly good mainstream thriller.

    LaBute has another one coming up that I’m nervous about – he’s doing THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY which is a great Charles Willeford book about a fucked up art critic. I don’t think it could really work as a movie unfortunately.

  14. I liked LAKEVIEW reasonably well; it was an average but decently executed thriller with some interesting racial examinations which are not exactly subtle, but not CRASH-level crammed down your throat either. LaBute specifically talked up the race angle and I think that’s what got him interested in it; the thriller-ness seems kind of perfunctory but still better executed than WICKER MAN.

    IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is easily among the all-time most brutal filmgoing experiences, though.

  15. the Death At A Funeral remake is finally coming out too

  16. This may be one of my favorite Cage performances ever. Only the Cage-Man could pull off the unintentional(I hope) daftness that frequently flies out of this movie.

    Case in point –

    It’s already been established that Constable Malus is allergic to bees. Because when he’s in the bar on the island he kills a bee with his beer schooner, then tells the barmaid he’s allergic. Also, the barmaid is in shock because bees are sacred in this place. So he’s only been in town for five minutes and he’s already pissing off the locals.

    Then, he’s pushing his bike through a field when he bumps into a massive beehive, sparking a bee rush. But instead of turning back to get away from them, he continues to plow, scream, stumble and roll through a half-acre field of these huge hives, with thousands of bees chasing him. Quite funny, in a Charlie Chaplin or Daffy Duck sort of way.

    Much to marvel at in this one. I sorta assimilate THE WICKER MAN with VAMPIRES KISS as an example of Cage going mega, but with a straight face and not really trying to use charm. His character comes off like a misogynistic jerk in both films. In VAMPIRE he IS a jerk. In WICKER MAN he’s up against a cult of men-haters so his response is more thematically understandable.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>