According to astrologers, when the planet Mercury is in retrograde, communications of every kind get fuzzed up. Computers crash. E-mails get sent to wrong addresses. Highway signs get missed, and you end up in Tennessee instead of at your new doctor’s office. Tissy fits and hurt feelings run rampant, because everyone is misinterpreting what everyone else says. Mercury in retrograde (it happens three horrible times a year, the last one ending last Thursday) is not a time to have surgery (charts are misread), get married (the florist sends the flowers to the wrong church) or hand in your novel to a publisher (all the errors you so laboriously corrected don’t get saved).
Wicker Park gets the award for being the most intense Mercury-in-retrograde movie ever made, because its entire plot revolves around relentless communication snafus. Letters aren’t delivered. Answering machines get sabotaged. Afternoon trysts get missed. Sitting through this film is excruciating, because you want to smack the Mercury-crossed lovers for forgetting two of the most crucial Rules of Life in Today’s Complicated World: 1) always double-confirm everything, and 2) never trust anyone else to deliver a message for you.
Matthew (Josh Hartnett, Hollywood Homicide) is a pressure-averse bachelor who’s engaged to his boss’s sister, Rebecca (Canadian Jessica Pare, Posers). She’s a nice-enough gal, but can’t really capture Matthew’s heart, because he’s still in love with Lisa, his former girlfriend from two years ago. Lisa (German-born Diane Kruger, Troy), at that time a dancer with the Chicago Ballet, and then-photographer Matthew, were madly in love. But the day after Matthew asked Lisa to live with him, she vanished without a trace. Even though disappearing was totally uncharacteristic of her, Matthew never files a missing person’s report, or contacts her parents, or talks to any of her girlfriends in the ballet. He just proceeds with his life, albeit ever heartbroken.
On the night he’s supposed to fly to China to close a big deal for his company, Matthew thinks he sees Lisa in a restaurant. This chance sighting leads him on an obsessive journey to find her. From one absurd coincidence to another, Matthew follows a path that you could describe as proof of synchronicity — if only it would stop getting messed up by Mercury.
Along the way he seeks help from his old buddy, Luke (Matthew Lillard, Without a Paddle), who owns a fashionable shoe store that caters to women who know how good they look in high heels. Yet Luke can’t seem to get a date with any of his customers — possibly because he’s a jerk, or maybe because his bad haircut makes him look like a furry pyramid. He finally scores with Alex (Aussie actress Rose Byrne, Troy ), a beautiful but very weird amateur Shakespearean thespian who plays some serious make-believe both onstage and off.
Much of this film’s action occurs in oddly decorated apartments (which is understandable, since Wicker Park is a remake of a French movie named L’Appartement), and a posh restaurant called Bellucci (in honor of Monica Bellucci, the star of the original movie). Shot in Montreal and Chicago, especially in that latter city’s pretty Wicker Park, the movie is full of winter clothes, high boots and frozen breath puffs, making for lots of sexy, moody, who’s-coming-through-the-door-next? photography. Kudos to director Paul McGuinan and cinematographer Paul Sova, who’ve worked out their shared perspective on two other films, The Reckoning and Gangster No. 1.
But intriguing photography can’t make up for a script that loses its way. For some reason (perhaps a need for a more profitable PG-13 rating?), this movie that is supposed to send chills up your spine ends up crashing down in Dullsville. There are no jealous lovers leaving bunnies in a pot or knives hidden in the lingerie drawer, and there’s no real threat of any kind that Matthew might be getting his due for being so disorganized. The final third of the film just lies flat, as boring as a tune stuck in repeat mode. Even Wicker Park‘s happy ending doesn’t make up for the fact that you had to go through so much tedium to get there.
Not funny enough for tweens, not complex enough for grownups, Wicker Park ultimately has only a very small audience to appreciate it — those of us gals who think Josh Hartnett is so adorable that we’ll see him no matter how stupid the movie he’s in.
– reviewed by Marci Miller