Much of the fun of the original 1973 film version of Anthony Shaffer's novel The Wicker Man came from its thoroughly unlikable protagonist: Playing a pushy, prudish Christian zealot, Edward Woodward stormed through the story like a cut-rate Cotton Mather, condemning everyone around him and earning himself a fate that was simultaneously fitting and ironic. Neal LaBute's flaccid new Wicker Man remake eliminates both the Christianity and the zealotry from the character, which doesn't leave much. Playing the Woodward role, Nicolas Cage does what he can to come across as an aggressive ass, but he mostly just seems weakly peevish. Like so much about this new rendition of the story, he lacks any sense of drive or purpose.
As the film opens, Cage is a motorcycle cop out on patrol in California when he witnesses a shocking and thoroughly nonsensical accident that leaves him a pill-popping wreck, prone to incessant, repetitive flashbacks and nightmares that kick in abruptly whenever LaBute needs a generic horror-movie jolt to wake viewers up. Shortly thereafter, his ex-fiancée Kate Beahan summons him to Summerisle, a cloistered Pacific Northwest island community where she claims her—or could it be, gasp, their?—daughter has mysteriously disappeared. The locals stonewall Cage's hamfisted investigation, and Beahan, who's prone to answering questions with grunts and vapid farm-animal expressions, is no help either. While noticing that the islanders are all either smirking, cagey women or silent, sheepish, browbeaten men, Cage still fails to heed the warning signs, no matter how many unsubtle hints about pagan rituals and ancient ways are thrown in his direction.
Lacking the religious conflict to give his story a focus, writer-director LaBute coats the proceedings in his usual dreary misogyny, recasting Summerisle as a colony of evil, manipulative shrews. But even the spectacle of Cage running around the island punching women full in the face and screaming "Bitches!" isn't as problematic as Wicker Man's gigantic plot holes, interminable empty dialogue, cheap shocks, and uneven stabs at tension. The original Wicker Man had its flaws, particularly in the lumpy pacing. LaBute's thoroughly inessential remake not only lovingly reproduces those flaws, it introduces a slew of new ones, in the process turning a cultishly creepy classic into a dull and windy farce.