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.
I 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.