What does it mean, exactly, to man up?

For those familiar with Sam Peckinpah's controversial 1971 film Straw Dogs, Rod Lurie's faithful - yet surprisingly dissimilar - remake almost succeeds as an object lesson in the difference between being a man and being a macho animal. But it fails as a gripping home-invasion thriller.

In both films, a cerebral urban guy moves with his hot wife back to her rural birthplace, where townies resent his success and her elevated social status. In both films, the fractures in the marriage between urban guy David (bespectacled James Marsden in the remake) and hot wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), become chasms because emasculated urban guy fails to mark his territory and is not around to defend his wife from rape.

In Lurie's remake, Mississippi horn dogs come sniffing around Amy. But instead of setting boundaries, David hires them to fix a roof blown away by Hurricane Katrina.

One of them, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), a former high-school quarterback, dated Amy when she was a cheerleader and would like to take up where they left off. David plays chess. Charlie plays mind games.

Lurie (The Contender) elicits a terrific performance from Bosworth as Amy. Her meringue beauty belies a stony resolve. She is furious at David for his inability to stand up to the self-described rednecks who commit numerous trespasses, and undress Amy with their eyes.

Why don't you wear a bra?, David asks. Amy believes she should be able to dress how she wants in her own house. In her anger, Amy flashes the workmen, an act interpreted by Charlie and coworkers as an invitation.

In Peckinpah's version, Amy (played by saucy Susan George) was - in the parlance of the day - "asking for it." Even worse, in Peckinpah's notorious rape scene, it seemed that Amy was responsive.

Give Lurie this: His rape scene does not, like Peckinpah's, aestheticize sexual violence. Amy does not prefer Charlie's macho to her husband's meekness; she just wants David to stand up for himself the way she stands up for herself.

Yet her rape is crudely intercut with a sequence of David hunting. David stalks and shoots a buck, his rifle discharging at the same moment Charlie climaxes. I was horrified by the apparent cinematic equation of one man finding his manhood as another brutally exercises his. Perhaps Lurie meant to suggest that David was "manning up" and Charlie was a macho pig?

In any event, after that montage, the film limps to its finale - an attack where, together, Amy and David defend their home and marriage. Even for an exploitation movie, the second half of Straw Dogs feels awfully perfunctory.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215 854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.