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by Willie Waffle

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 Wicker Park

Josh Harnett was supposed to be THE IT BOY after Pearl Harbor, but his career has not come close to what it could have been. Hollywood Homicide was a disaster, several smaller films never caught fire, reportedly he turned down a chance to be Superman, and this film, Wicker Park, isn't great.  

Josh Hartnett stars as Matt - a young advertising exec on the verge of getting engaged to the boss' sister and on his way to Singapore to close a huge, lucrative deal. Everything is going his way, but (and there's always a but in movies) his past is about to interfere with his present. Two years ago, Matt fell madly in love with Lisa (Diane Kruger), but she disappeared without a trace. No phone calls. No letters. Nothing. One day, as he walks through a restaurant, Matt thinks he hears Lisa in the phone booth next to the restrooms. The mystery lady gets away before he can discover if it is Lisa, but Matt has to know if he has found the love of his life. He's not getting on that plane to Singapore, he's jumping into detective mode to find the woman he still loves.

Can Matt find her? Is it Lisa?

Wicker Park isn't very good, but it is fixable. The biggest problems are caused when director Paul McGuigan is trying to do too much. He uses flashbacks too much throughout the movie to show us what happened between Matt and Lisa as well as other important plot twists, but to the point where the technique is rendered worthless and ponderous. He uses it so often, I was waiting for McGuigan to show us flashbacks from a dog passing on the street or maybe a mouse who secretly lived in Matt and Lisa's apartment. By making the movie more linear, the tension could have kept building and building instead of always stopping to go backwards.

Then, McGuigan adds too many twists and turns when we already have an idea where Wicker Park's plot is going. If you have seen any of the movie's TV commercials or trailers, these have given you a sense of what happened with Lisa, so McGuigan's time spent building up to the big revelation is anti-climactic. Even worse, he shows us too many times where Matt just misses a clue, so the mystery will continue, and, McGuigan hopes, we will get more emotionally involved in the movie. Instead, the audience just laughs as each instance gets more ludicrous.

Finally, McGuigan and the writers show us too many instances where important events happen because Matt is so darn good looking, like when he scores with women the first day he knows them (even though he is a stalker by any other name) or the female airline employee bumps him to first class because he's so hot, which comes in handy later in the movie. I understand McGuigan and team need to establish Matt's amazing hotness to explain the movie's big twist, but this is going overboard.

Also, McGuigan constantly shows us close ups of the restaurant Bellucci's, an homage to the French movie L'Appartement, which serves as the basis for Wicker Park. It's cute the first time for anyone who picks up on the mention because they know Wicker Park is a remake of that French film, but it gets ponderous after time 5 or 6. By that time, McGuigan might as well walk onto the screen and point at the restaurant's sign in the window and scream, "GET IT!"

The actors don't save Wicker Park, but they are not as bad as the other items I just mentioned. Krueger is very good as the object of affection as she wonderfully plays sexy, flirty and irresistible in the way every man dreams of (especially lonely, single, but available, movie critics), but she's not as solid when her character thinks she is in danger. Rose Byrne as Alex needs to be a little wackier to make the story work, but she holds her own in an average cast.

Meanwhile, Hartnett is mainly one dimensional with his perpetually-confused-with-furrowed-brow-look. I have seen him do better, like the comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights, but drama doesn't seem to suit him as he doesn't have great ability to show emotions to the audience. I don't see changes in his facial expressions or any changes in his voice to show us Matt's pain, which is something a Tom Hanks, even a Dennis Quaid, can do at the drop of a hat.

Wicker Park should have been better, but it might inspire you to rent the original on DVD if you can find it. However, I do want to thank MGM for being tough enough to screen this movie for critics.  With so many studios choosing to cheat moviegoers with bad movies not screened for critics, so studios can hide the movie's stink and get some easy opening weekend ticket sales, MGM took the honorable path.   

1 Waffle (Out Of 4)

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