Directed by Paul McGuigan. Starring Josh Hartnett, Diane Kruger, Rose Byrne, Matthew Lillard. (2004, PG-13, 115 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 3, 2004
How many ways can a filmmaker confuse the issue of a convoluted script that relies almost entirely on coincidence and chance? Paul McGuigan (The Reckoning) pulls out all the stops on his Wurlitzter organ of incessant camera trickery to muddy the waters of rationality in this bizarre remake of Gilles Mimouni’s fine French thriller L’Appartement. It’s not that McGuigan, who’s previously proven himself adept at creating sinister scenarios (most notably with the clanging, bullet-ridden bravado of 2000’s Gangster No. 1), fails to engage the audience. They’re likely to be about as engaged as an American audience can be these days, given that Wicker Park’s constant stream of flashbacks and multiple points of view means that even a brief trip to the restroom will surely leave you wondering what in the world happened during your absence and how it impacts the rest of the story, which now makes about as much sense as lead snowflakes. You’ve got to hand it to McGuigan and screenwriter Brandon Boyce, though: They’ve chosen to remake a foreign thriller that even in its original form was a model of vertiginous Hitchcockian impossibility. The story has been tamed a bit for its current incarnation, but the main plot points remain intact. Hartnett plays ad buyer Matthew, who fell into a wildly passionate romance with the gamine Lisa (Kruger), who then promptly vanished into the ether. In the intervening two years, Matthew, whose hair is now a model of stylistic unreproachability, has obsessed over this mystery date and is only now getting back on the love saddle when he catches a glimpse of Lisa at a local eatery. He fails to make contact, but an increasingly bizarre series of events comes into play (not the least of which is his decision to secretly forgo a career-making trip to Asia and the as-yet-only-mental dumping of his fiancée) as he tracks down the, ahem, missing piece. Aided in his search by lothario pal Luke (Lillard, in the same role that’s threatened to replace his career in the last half-dozen films he’s made), Matthew discovers that the girl he saw in the restaurant is actually another Lisa, a cute, oddly secretive woman who is on the run from a stalker. And then there’s Luke’s new love, who fits into this puzzle in a way not to be revealed here under pain of watching this film again. As the improbabilities pile up like the masonry of a particularly quarrelsome pyramid, the film lurches toward its climax with all the subtlety of a runaway screenwriting class. Wicker Park is the kind of film that strives mightily – you can feel the sweat beading on its brow and the gnashing of teeth – to be an original thing in a sea of simulacra, but it’s this same struggle that hobbles things. Hartnett is fine enough – there are moments where you can plainly see those acting lessons pay off – but this American version can’t hold a candle to its French counterpart, which was deeply, eerily resonant where this is only frustrating, a Rubik’s Cube, minus its colorful signage.