There’s a deliriously delightful weird streak that runs through “The Wicker Man,” at least for a while, with Nicolas Cage as a cop investigating the disappearance of a child from a creepy, private island in Washington’s Puget Sound.
Apparently these people are into all kinds of pagan rituals, and Cage’s Edward Malus just happens to have arrived in time for the harvest festival. So there he is, running around in a jacket and tie, banging on doors with a gun in his hand, yanking the piggy and bunny masks off the faces of cherubic little blond girls in search of the one who’s gone missing.
Sometimes he bellows that he’ll arrest whomever gets in the way of his investigation, in sharp contrast to the sardonic tone he takes in making most of his observations about this remote, archaic place and its unhelpful residents. You can just hear him, can’t you? That low, monotone drawl of his.
It’s wild, really — and before it spirals into irretrievably ridiculous territory toward the end, it can even be fun, just because the mystery gets so bizarre and you have no idea where it’s going.
The wildest part of all, though, is the fact that Neil LaBute wrote and directed “The Wicker Man” (a remake of a critically acclaimed 1973 British thriller), that besides Cage it also stars Ellen Burstyn and Frances Conroy (none of them no-names) and that nevertheless the film wasn’t shown to critics before opening day.
Not exactly a show of confidence, especially at the end of the summer.
But it isn’t nearly as horrendous as most films that are withheld from us. It’s never as scary or suspenseful as it aspires to be, but it might just be the greatest bad movie of the year, with its clunky writing resulting in some surprisingly entertaining kooky moments.
Burstyn is a kick as Sister Summersisle, the leader for whom the island is named. Smiling, regal and condescending in long, silver hair and flowing pastel robes, she’s the earthly representation of the mother goddess all the residents worship, and her exchanges with Cage represent the closest thing to actual quality.
The ethereal Kate Beahan co-stars as Edward’s former fiancee and the mother of the missing girl, who asked him to come to this strange place to help look for her. All she does is inspire him to say really obvious things like, “Something bad is about to happen, I can feel it.” Well, duh.
What Edward ends up finding is a society where women dominate — they function as schoolteacher, innkeeper, doctor, etc. — and men are around solely to perform menial tasks and to help procreate.
“We love our men,” Sister Summersisle explains to Edward. “We’re just not subservient to them.”
And maybe that’s the point of LaBute’s involvement. After years of being accused of misogyny with films like “In the Company of Men” and “The Shape of Things,” perhaps “The Wicker Man” is his penance.