One might expect two hours of quality entertainment when walking into “Wicker Park,” the new film from director Paul McGuigan (“The Reckoning”). It’s easy to naively assume that, hey, a movie advertised with racy photos of Josh Hartnett and the slogan “Passion Never Dies” has to — at the very least — be easy to watch, right? But, alas, such an assumption would sadly be a mistake. The film’s laughably simple characters and jumbled, almost incomprehensible plot actually lead to a movie that is nearly impossible to sit through. Considering the fact that it stars two of the best looking actors in the business today, something is wrong. Very wrong.
“Wicker Park” is a remake of the 1996 French film “L’Appartement,” written and directed by Gilles Mimouni, who shares the writing credits with Brandon Boyce on this American version. It is the story of Matthew’s (Hartnett) desperate, renewed search to find Lisa (Diane Kruger, who played Helen in “Troy”), the love of his life who disappeared two years ago. Matthew has a successful career, a serious girlfriend, and all the other trappings of success. Yet, he is more than willing to throw them all away after he thinks he catches a glimpse of Lisa in a restaurant the night before a business trip to China, which he subsequently ditches, opting to instead search for Lisa.
Not that there’s anything wrong with oggling over Josh’s deep brown eyes that are so prone to squinting all sexy-like when he’s in cheesy emotional scenes. We can appreciate the fact that he looks like a confused, slightly hurt high school football star and it’s not hard to overlook his reputation as a teenage heartthrob and try to see him as a real, bonafide actor. But what is difficult, no, impossible to overlook is the utter simplicity of the characters. In a movie that needs to establish a standard of normalcy or reality, mostly because the plot is then centered around departure from it, the characters are haltingly unrealistic. Matthew goes to insane lengths (breaking into hotel rooms, reaching into obscure cracks — no, not the nasty kind) to find Lisa. Why? Lisa has been missing from his life for two years and he hasn’t batted an eye. He even seems to have been better off without her. So right away, the plot has no force, and the audience cannot relate to Matthew. And of course, Hartnett’s performance does nothing to enhance this weak character.
It’s even hard to understand how Alex (Rose Stern) can claim to be so hopelessly in love with Matthew — that is unless cheesy, cliche ideas like justifying his passion for photography with a caprice for tropical fishes are really, genuinely appealing to members of the opposite sex. Most girls prefer that you don’t share comments like that. Even Josh can’t pull off the old tropical fish line.
Matthew Lillard as Luke, the long lost friend of Matthew (they bump into each other on the street after two years, go figure) is annoying. He may as well have had a scene in which he tries on all the shoes in the shoe store that he works in during an artsy montage. God knows that McGuigan finds them so appealing everywhere else in the film.
In addition to the split screen techniques used and the soft focus montages, there are also frequent flashbacks that attempt to convey to the audience the depth and passion of Matt and Lisa’s intense, albeit brief, love. True love, you got it? Mostly, the flashbacks are confusing: Lisa wears the same coat the entire film. Wardrobe and weather remain the same, from two years ago to the present. Is this scene during the present winter, or two years ago? And does it even make a difference? The flashbacks, lack of chronological order, and awkward camera angles don’t do their job, making the setting, Wicker Park in Chicago, the only effective recurring piece in the plot.
When we emerged from the darkness of the theater we were physically exhausted and thoroughly frustrated from trying to follow any semblance of plot. Needing release from Josh’s heavy stares and the misdirected intensity of Wicker Park, we took refuge in the hot buffet of Gourmet Heaven. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.