To say Nicolas Cage seems bat shit insane is an understatement and kind of redundant, as his name is basically synonymous with bat shittery these days. But it wasn’t always that way. He was the interesting actor who gave a certain edge to the otherwise forgettable teen romance, Valley Girl. He was legitimately hilarious, while somehow making a kidnapping endearingly sweet in Raising Arizona. He won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and was nominated for one a decade ago for Adaptation.
But back in the 90s, he took a weird turn and started rabidly chewing scenery with big, dumb (but fun and seemingly self aware) roles in disposable action like Face/Off, Con Air and Gone in 60 Seconds. Then he went right over the edge with inexplicable crap like Ghostrider, Bangkok Dangerous and Drive Angry. I’m not judging anything, after all, those European castles and vintage Superman comics aren’t going to pay for themselves. But now I think I know the tipping point, when Cage went from silly fun, to outright craptastic and insane… The year, 2006. The movie,
Extremely faithful to the 1973 original in a lot of ways, confusingly and pointlessly different in others, this is the story of Edward Malus (Cage), a California cop, lured to a remote island called Summersisle, in search of a missing young girl. When he arrives, he finds an insular, cult like community of weirdos who seem determined to hinder his investigations at every turn.
The first seemingly pointless diversion from the original is the decision to make the missing girl Malus’ daughter. The product of a decade old fling, the girl’s mother is a dedicated follower of the island’s leader, Ellen Byrstyn as Sister Summersisle. I guess the paternal connection was supposed be a believable motivation for Cage’s character, but it never seemed as organic as the weird, religious dedication that lead Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie to be so doggedly dedicated in the 1973 version.
The other major change is not only making the island’s leader a woman, but making the majority of the island’s inhabitants women. This seems like the setup for some sort of interesting comment on gender power and politics, but it never really leads anywhere. Almost like director and writer Neil Labute thought, “You know what be really cool, making the baddie a chick and most of her followers chicks. Then it’s like a scathing commentary on… Something… I guess”.
The Wicker Man update also suffers from a very American, very 21st century lack of subtly and an abundance of audience hand holding. The odd twins in this version are trying so hard to be creepy, that it just seems like actors trying really hard to be creepy. In 1973, the lengths the island folk were all going to in their attempts to look so normal were so obvious, that they only made them even more creepily disconcerting.
While this version of The Wicker Man is totally inessential as a remake and does absolutely nothing to improve on the original, that came as no shock. I had no doubt that the movie would be a bit crap, but the notoriety of Cage’s performance made me at least a little curious to see just how much of nut bag he can be. Unfortunately, even that was kind of underwhelming. There are a couple of so-bad-it’s-good moments, but not nearly enough to make the rest of the movie worth your time.