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Airbags

1 of 5 stars
Directed by Paul McGuigan.
Starring Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Matthew Lillard and Diane Kruger.

It's true. Wicker Park is a wretched, wretched movie. Shocking, I know.

For those who haven't seen the trailer or read anything else about this film, Matthew (Josh Hartnett) is a young man living in Wicker Park and working at a camera shop when he weirds out over a freak magnet, Lisa (Diane Kruger), whose image he sees on a video camera he's trying to fix. Seeing her by chance, he follows her around, learning that she's a dancer. Shortly thereafter, while visiting his straight male friend Luke (Matt Lillard) who runs a women's shoe store, Lisa spots him and calls him out on being a weird stalker boy even as he pretends to work there, selling her a pair of shoes in the process. This being the movies, she gives him her phone number, and they go out on a date and have sex. Two months later, he's got a job offer from New York City, but realizes he doesn't want to move because he's in love with her. Matt asks her to move in with him, but rather than answer, Lisa asks to meet him the next day in Wicker Park. But she never shows up, because she left at the last minute to tour with a company in Europe for the summer.

Two years later, Matt has moved back with his New York City job and a fiancée in tow, while Lisa is in hiding from her current stalker boyfriend, a widower named Daniel (Christopher Cousins) who flipped out when his wife died -- or was murdered! Except that Daniel only gets to shout "Lisa!" at closed doors a few times before never appearing in the movie again. Matt catches a fleeting glimpse of Lisa and follows the few clues he has, breaking all kinds of laws in the process, until he thinks he's tracked down her new apartment. Illegally entering the apartment, he runs into a woman who claims to be named Lisa and that she lives there. Matt spots shoes identical to the ones he'd sold to Lisa (and had noticed when he thought he saw Lisa earlier), but chalks it all up to coincidence. So he has sex with this second Lisa, because that's what engaged men do while they're stalking their ex-girlfriends.

Unsurprisingly, Lisa Two is actually Alex (Rose Byrne), an actress who is dating Luke. The real Lisa is staying at Alex's apartment, who used to be her neighbor before Lisa went on her European tour. Alex and Lisa had met when Alex helped her get away from yet another psycho boyfriend, this one predating Matt. (In the movie upon which Wicker Park is based, 1996's L'Appartement, their names were Lisa and Alice, a quaint inversion of two syllables. When you say them in French, I mean.) We also learn that Alex has been psycho about Matt since before Lisa met, that she was instrumental in the misunderstanding that parted the two lovers, and that she's been scheming to keep Matt and Lisa apart ever since she learned that Matthew was back in town.

The existence of Matt's fiancée Rebecca (Jessica Paré, who looks like a curvy Liv Tyler) is simply an inconvenience to him once Lisa is back in his life. Rebecca turns up again solely to provide an untimely (but "dramatic") interruption once Matt has finally found Lisa at the film's climax -- no, not Wicker Park, but O'Hare. The way Matt brushes Rebecca off is vicious and cruel in the extreme. Matthew all but says, "Hey, by the way, the love of my life was being kept from me by a psycho, so... um, have a nice life." Why is it that in chick flicks, irredeemably horrible things are so often granted Get Out of Jail Free cards in the name of True Love? This is supposed to be romantic? The only scary thing about this so-called "romantic thriller" is that the filmmakers actually seem to think so.

Wicker Park not only fails as a romance, but as a thriller, as well. There is never any threat to any of the characters, unless you count getting their hearts broken or getting arrested by the nowhere-to-be-seen Chicago PD as "threats." No boiling bunnies here, my friends. The worst punishment anyone gets for their misdeeds is a stern look from across a table.

Going into the theater, my main hope that the film would not be unbearably stupid was that the soundtrack CD is actually pretty good. Even Baz Luhrmann's brain-dead Romeo + Juliet was tolerable when Radiohead was playing, and Wicker Park has the better soundtrack. Despite a few clunkers like Johnette Napolitano's version of Coldplay's "The Scientist" and a mediocre Mates of State take on "These Days," there are several great songs on the soundtrack CD -- few of which turned out to be in the actual movie. Among those few that did make it in are a Mazzy Star song, Mogwai's "I Know You Are But What Am I," a Múm song, and a bit of weirdness from +/- that serves as Matthew's nutjob theme song a few too many times. But nowhere in the movie were the album's highlights: a Postal Service cover of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds," a Stills song sung in French called "Retour à Vega," a shimmering rarity from the Shins, and a beautiful acoustic version of Death Cab for Cutie's "A Movie Script Ending."

Aside from the music, my other hope for the film was the enjoyment of seeing the greatest city in the world on the big screen yet again, but in many scenes bits of Montreal stood in for sweet home Chicago in order to keep the budget down, so this wasn't as common as I'd expected, either. There are a couple of shots around Damen/North/Milwaukee, plus a few shots from downtown during the opening credits, but not much else, as far as I could tell. The camera repair shop Matthew works at initially seems to occupy a magical building in roughly the same location as the building Mod inhabits, except that the architecture looks more like something from around Damen & Division (or, more likely, Montreal). Also, ludicrously, the area of "Wicker Park" Matt and Lisa are so fond of not meeting in isn't even in the neighborhood, unless I missed the hot dog stand every time I've been there. While I hardly expect films to hold up to geographic scrutiny, if you're going to call your film Wicker Park, you think you should maybe film the scenes set in Wicker Park at Wicker Park? I'll let you ponder that doozy for a few seconds.

With those hopes unfulfilled and only the tissue-paper-thin excuse for a plot to entertain me, I was pretty much doomed. There are more "yeah, right" moments in this film than broken bottles on the stretch of beach down my street. Why doesn't Lisa say, "Sure, I'll move in with you, I'm totally in love with you," rather than telling him to meet her in Wicker Park at 3pm the next day? And when she all of a sudden can't meet him then why did she deem it necessary to give Alex Matt's key to deliver a note rather than just letting him listen to the nine damned messages she'd already left? Why doesn't she call his cell phone? For that matter, why doesn't anyone use their cell phones? In Wicker Park, the telecommunication problems pile up like so much snow in a Chicago winter. No one has call waiting. No one has Caller ID. And, of course, no one's cell phone ever has a signal (or perhaps they all just have Cingular). Most annoyingly, the "Oh no! My cell phone doesn't have a signal" cliché is trotted out on more one occasion.

The film's utter lack of plausibility doesn't remotely begin and end with phones in this alternate-universe Chicago, though. Why doesn't Lisa have any friends until Alex comes along? Where are her pictures? How come the only objects in Lisa's apartment Matt has any recollection of are the shoes he sold her? He seriously doesn't recognize one other thing in her whole apartment? Did she get all new furniture in two years' time? They dated for two months and were having sex since date one, of course, so I imagine he spent some amount of time in her previous apartment — and yet he recognizes only the shoes?

All of these questions Wicker Park raises just keep bringing me to the same, single question: "Can I have the 114 minutes of my life back?"

Wicker Park is playing at AMC River East, AMC Ford City 14, I.C.E. Chatham 14, Lincoln Village 1–6, Village North, Village Burnham Plaza, Webster Place, and the Evanston Century 12/CinéArts 6. Just say no.

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Comments

Naz / September 10, 2004 2:09 AM

Quite the clunker I see. Good review, funny.

Here's the rub:

What woman do you know still keeps a pair of shoes from two years ago?

I don't even keep a pair of shoes from two years ago.

Sounds like a lot of high school drama shenanigans where one couldn't give a rats arse about the characters. It sure sounds like it.

Craig / September 10, 2004 9:34 AM

Oh no!!! A film about Wicker Park!!! It's gonna gentrify the neighborhood!!! Get out before a Starbucks gets in!!!

Dan / September 10, 2004 10:34 AM

Good review, mah man.

The fact that this movie is called "Wicker Park" but mostly shot in Montreal seems like a huge red flag to begin with.

I'm wondering though>> Has anyone seen the original? By that, I mean, L'Appartement? I've heard it's much better (which isn't saying much, I suppose). How do they compare?

Peter / September 10, 2004 10:38 AM

I saw this with my girlfriend and my opinion is that it is a chick-flick in thriller's clothing. That being said, it is a chick-flick that a guy can sit thru.

Gordon / September 10, 2004 11:21 AM

If you're a guy in danger of being forced to watch this movie, try to convince your misguided loved one to rent L'Appartement instead. I haven't seen it, but all accounts say it is a much better movie. But even if it's not, you will get these two benefits from suggesting the original instead:

1) It's a foreign film without kung fu fighting, which will make you seem smarter than you really are.

2) Monica Bellucci.

There you go.

Luke / September 10, 2004 11:55 AM

> I don't even keep a pair of shoes from two years ago.

Really? Shoes are too expensive for me to get less than five years' use out of them, except for running shoes, which like tires I rotate every 500 miles. My Birkenstocks were a major purchase when I first got them and are now in their ninth year. Sure, they probably look it, too, but caring how I look is just so California.

Naz / September 10, 2004 1:21 PM

Luke - I suppose I might be an exception: I'm a shoe junkie. As bad or worse than a girl, as some have said. However, aside from dress shoes, I go through sneakers, bike shoes, etc pretty thoroughly. Once work out, I replace them. So, aside from leisures shoes I suppose.

Lara / September 10, 2004 2:50 PM

What's in L'Appartement for the (straight) ladies, Gordon? Is Josh Hartnett in that one too? (just kidding)
Lovely review, I will surely never EVER see it now.

Kris / September 10, 2004 3:30 PM

Wow. Trying to make sense of that plot makes my head hurt. I knew it was a bad sign that a movie titled "Wicker Park" only did about three days of shooting here last year, and most of that was around the Water Tower.

Alex / September 10, 2004 4:00 PM

Wait....what?

What a kooky-ass plot. And am I the onnly one who thinks Josh Hartnett looks like Alfalfa from "Our Gang"?

Naz / September 10, 2004 4:30 PM

You mean that's a plot? Sounds like some kids I knew back in high school.

DRAMA!

Shylo / September 10, 2004 6:47 PM

The teen magazines call him Josh Hot-nett.

Which is weird, because he looks like my brother the crack head.

 

About the Author(s)

Gordon McAlpin writes his movie reviews with a red light-up Spy Kids pen, which he thinks is the coolest thing ever, even though he didn't like the movie that much.

If you feel the need to get in touch with him directly, instead of using the comments below, do so at .

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