- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

Nobody can well up with tears quite like Josh Hartnett. The Minnesota native, dubbed the next big thing but lacking the resume to prove it, can bawl with the best of ‘em, thanks to his dark chocolate eyes and the sundae-syrup lashes.

He proves it once more in “Wicker Park,” a mystery romance out to settle the actor’s box-office mettle once and for all.

Too bad this week’s preview audience had unofficially renamed the film “Snicker Park” by the final reel, chuckling at major plot turns as if it were a Farrelly brothers romp.

Based on the 1996 French feature “L’Appartement,” “Wicker Park” begins with some nifty plot tricks but devolves into standard pedestrian storytelling — explaining everything away before we could connect the dots ourselves.

How very, very American.

The exposition leaves the film’s threadbare plot devices exposed for all to see, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Mr. Hartnett stars as Matthew, a young man about to jet off to China for a big work assignment. As if that weren’t enough stress, he’s also engagement-ring shopping for his girlfriend, the sister of his boss.

His emotional turmoil has only just begun.

Director Paul McGuigan intersperses the present with snatches of a foggy past in which Matthew chases a beautiful dance instructor named Lisa (the luminescent Diane Kruger), whom he fell for at first sight.

Lisa, we learn, disappeared from Matthew’s life two years earlier after a torrid romance, and he’s never fully put back the pieces of his shattered heart.

Now, believing he sees glimpses of her, he sets out to solve the mystery of where she is and why she left so abruptly in the first place.

Stalking never seemed so gosh-darned romantic.

Lending a dubious helping hand is Luke (Matthew Lillard), Matthew’s pal who proves equal parts sounding board and comic relief, a trait the all dour-all-the-time Mr. Hartnett certainly needs to enliven his earnest performance.

The romantic threads coalesce soon enough, though, and “Wicker Park” begins its descent toward B-movie banality.

Mr. McGuigan trots out an array of cinematic devices to smooth over the bumpy narrative, some of which work while other moments smack of pretension.

Mr. Hartnett, despite his Olympics-worthy tear ducts, simply can’t convey the kind of adult longing the film demands. The actor still looks like a high-schooler who stumbled into a grown-up production, and screenwriter Brandon Boyce’s Teen Beat dialogue doesn’t help.

Mr. Lillard proves a far more engaging foil, and it’s a shame that the two actors didn’t reverse roles to let each stretch beyond their assigned personae.

At odds with itself, “Wicker Park” proves too convoluted to snare any tweener girl demographic and too unsophisticated to lure the art-house crowd.

However, those who still believe that love at first sight justifies stalking and psychotic behavior will line up in droves.


WHAT: “Wicker Park”

RATING: PG-13 (sexuality and strong language)

CREDITS: Directed by Paul McGuigan. Screenplay by Brandon Boyce.

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

WEB SITE: www.wickerparkmovie.com


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