Wicker Park (6/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

When Bjorn Borg was king of the tennis world, it was said that you couldn’t tell if he was winning 6-0, 6-0, or losing 6-0, 6-0, his demeanor was so stoic. Josh Hartnett is the Bjorn Borg of acting. Tell him to emote joy, sorrow, pain, loss, enthusiasm, despair, and any other of hundreds of emotions and he’ll always look the same. In a tennis player, this is a great asset. Not so in an actor.

Take a pretty good script (Brandon Boyce, based on Gilles Mimouni’s Screenplay for L’Appartement, 1996), a pretty good Director (Paul McGuigan) and a horrible cast, and what you get is Wicker Park. Matthew (Hartnett) is on his way to China when he thinks he sees his old girl friend, Lisa (Diane Kruger), who he thinks dumped him. He starts an odyssey to try to find her and runs into Alex (Rose Byrne), all along getting encouragement from his friend, Luke (Matthew Lillard).

McGuigan masterfully warps time and keeps the audience guessing about what’s going on and what time frame we’re actually in. With a good cast and a good editor, this could have been a scary, mesmerizing movie. Unfortunately, once Hartnett opens his squinty eyes, you have no clue what he’s feeling, if anything, so impassive is he. Compounding Hartnett’s sang froid, Lillard is monumentally unbelievable as his buddy who’s got a crush on Alex. His looks are so weird, the constant smile on his face so goofy, he doesn’t come close to portraying either a buddy or a guy with a  hopeless crush on Alex. To be fair, Kruger is just supposed to be an ephemeral, elusive beauty, so there’s not much responsibility placed on her shoulders.

Lost among all this ineptitude is Rose Byrne, who creates a truly creepy character. Unfortunately, her performance is lost by the incompetence of her fellow actors.

The film actually sweeps you along as you really can’t figure out what’s happening. But after 90 minutes it turns from creepy to campy. At my screening there was laughter where McGuigan and Boyce couldn’t want or expect it. And that’s a shame because they had the thread of a good film here. This could have made a terrific 90-minute movie. It loses its pace and mystery as it ambles on far too long. It made me want to see the original, L’Appartement. The French know how to do these things. Unfortunately, I don’t think L’Appartement was ever released in America, so we’re stuck with Wicker Park.

September 1, 2004

The End