Dir: Neil La Bute.US. 2006. 97mins.

When will they ever learn'Despite the evidence of everything from Psycho(1998) to The Omen (2006), sensiblefilm-makers still cannot resist the foolish temptation of remaking the iconicfilms of their youth. Neil La Bute's version of The Wicker Man is particularlyill-judged, diluting, distorting and demeaning virtually all the qualities thatmade the 1973 British original so haunting.

The result is a clunky,conventional mystery yarn that will appal aficionadosof the Robin Hardy classic that is frequently voted the best British horrorfilm ever made. Younger genre fans without the baggage of old allegiances willmerely find it tame and old hat, moreso given itslack of gore and gimmicks.

Curiosity seekers willensure decent opening weekend figures but word of mouth will be fatal, leaving The Wicker Man seeking hit-and-runbusiness before that word spreads. Such a muted response will probably extendbeyond the US and UK, especially in a pretty crowded market where those olderaudiences have a more acceptable Nicolas Cage alternative competing for theirattention in the shape of World TradeCenter. The Wicker Man opens inthe US and UK on Sept 1, followed by an out of competitionmidnight screening at Venice.

A gaunt, haggard-lookingNicolas Cage stars as Californian highway patrolman Edward Malus.Traumatised by his inability to save a mother anddaughter from the burning wreckage of a car, he is on compassionate leave whenhe receives a letter from his former fiancee WillowWoodward (Kate Beahan). She now lives on a remoteisland off Maineand begs for his help in finding her missing daughter.

In the original, EdwardWoodward's virginal Christian cop fell victim to apagan Scottish community; his very virtue condemned him to a grisly fate.Cage's character is merely naive to the point of stupidity and blunders on tothe feminist neo-pagan commune on Summersisle like awild west sheriff convinced that he knows best. A poor man's Columbo, his combination of arrogance and dumbness makesfor an unsympathetic figure although this may be the point; La Bute may just wish to emphasisethat the male is the weaker species.

Inevitably Malus is met by knowing smiles and a conspiracy of silenceas he undertakes his investigation. La Butestruggle to provide conventional genre thrills with Malusin peril as a wooden floor collapses under him, hebecomes trapped in a water-logged crypt and is stung by bees. Every terror isquickly resolved and lacks any resonance.

La Bute also makes use of dream sequences thatmomentarily wrong foot the audience and repetitive flashbacks to the caraccident which might just be clouding Malus'sjudgment.

Given La Bute'spast way with words, it is acutely disappointing that the dialogue is so leadenthat it makes you wince. "Something bad is about to happen, I can feel it,"declares the desperate Malus at one point.

Angelo Badalamenti'scod Bernard Herrmann score adds little atmosphere to the tale and there is asense in which the whole production is a little off, never finding its rhythmor confidence.

The performances are littlemore than adequate. Veteran Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn brings some authority toher brief role as community leader Sister Summersislebut when it comes to the grand denouement she seems to have taken make-uplessons from Marlon Brando's kabuki appearance in The Island Of Dr Moreau.

Cinematographer Paul Sarossy does ensure that the film looks beautiful, emphasising the sun's golden glow as it envelopes thisdeceptively idyllic island community. La Bute is to be commended for having the courageof his convictions when it comes to the film's fiery finale but then he goesand spoils it with a lame post-script that involves a brief appearance fromJames Franco. It is all too typical of the poor choices that beset the entirefilm.

Production companies
Millennium Films
Nu-Image Films
Redbus Pictures
Emmett/Furla Films
Salinas Films

US Distribution
Warner Brothers

International sales
Millennium Films

Executive producers
Boaz Davidson
Danny Dimbort
George Furla
Manfred D. Heid
Gerd Koechlin
Josef Lauren Schlager
Elisa Salinas
Trevor Short
Andreas Thiesmeyer
John Thompson

Nicolas Cage
Randall Emmett
Norman Golightly
Avi Lerner
Joanne Sellar

Neil La Bute based on the screenplay by AnthonySchaffer

Paul Sarossy

Production design
Phillip Barker

Joel Plotch

Angelo Badalamenti

Main cast
Nicolas Cage
Ellen Burstyn
Kate Beahan
Frances Conroy
Molly Parker
Leelee Sobieski