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The Wicker Man Reviews

There may be a way to remake 1973's cult thriller THE WICKER MAN, in which a deeply Christian cop has his religious convictions shaken to the core as he investigates the disappearance of a child from within a cheerfully pagan community, but Neil LaBute didn't find it. In the course of reworking renowned playwright Anthony Shaffer's script, he not only leached all the subtextual tension from its none-too-baffling mystery, but replaced it with a misogyny so vicious that it fairly demands that you cheer when Nicolas Cage's frustrated California highway patrolman cold-cocks a series of uppity women. Edward Malus (pronounced "male"-us, nudge, nudge) is on medical leave after inadvertently causing a horrific traffic accident in which a woman and her small daughter died trapped in a burning car. Tucked in among a stack of get-well cards is a letter, written in a beautiful, old-fashioned copperplate hand, from Edward's former fiancée, Willow Woodward (Kate Beahan). Though Willow abruptly abandoned him years earlier, her present situation is so desperate she's forced to beg for his help. Willow returned to Summersisle, the private Puget Sound island where she grew up, and has a young daughter named Rowan (Erika-Shaye Gair). Rowan has disappeared, and Willow's attempts to locate her are being stymied by her neighbors. Against his better judgment, Edward makes his way to Summersisle, whose residents all belong to a back-to-the-land community that manufactures organic honey and beeswax, and where there's no cell service and no regular transportation to and from the mainland. He runs smack up against the brick wall of an aggressively matriarchal society with no use for his bull-in-a-china-shop posturing, but pieces together enough evidence to convince him that Rowan has been kidnapped for use in a pagan fertility rite. LaBute's small attempt at homage to the original WICKER MAN — by splitting star Edward Woodward's name between Cage's and Beahan's characters — can't compensate for the hash he made of the original. It's bad enough that he paces the film as glacially as a Greek tragedy, and thoroughly wastes the efforts of a cast that includes Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, Frances Conroy and Diane Delano. What's worse is that he turns Shaffer's compelling war of beliefs — doctrinaire Calvinism vs. dogmatic animism, each as rewarding and demanding as the other — into a wishy-washy clash between "normal society" and womynist weirdos. The final insult: a "six months later" coda makes complete nonsense of the convoluted plot that drives the rest of the film.