OLDBOY: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Samuel L. Jackson, directed by Spike Lee (120 min.)
I'm not sure what I expected from the American version of Chan-wook Park's searing 2003 revenge flick Oldboy. But, knowing that Spike Lee was the man behind the camera, it's fair to say I expected more than this. While this remake isn't a ho-hum scene for scene retread - things are added and subtracted along the way while the main story remains in tact - there is nothing very memorable in this 2013 version. Perhaps the problem is the original, a hard-boiled, violent thriller, came with a shocking twist that tied everything together with a sick little bow. Since this version of the story decided, or maybe needed to, end with the same sick twist, any lasting impact was dead on arrival. That being said, what I missed more than the surprise ending had little to do with that original film and very much to do with this director.
Joe's investigation leads him to the man who ran the day-to-day of his prison, Chaney, played by Samuel L. Jackson who is once again over the top and just too much to deal with. I don't understand Jackson these days, but it seems to me he has become the African-American version of Nicolas Cage. After we get another take on the famous hammer attack scene, Joe meets the man responsible for his twenty-year imprisonment, a stranger played by Sharlto Copley who has a distracting goatee and an even more distractingly muddled accent. This stranger tells Joe he must find out who he is and why he imprisoned him for twenty years, or his now adult daughter will die. After some pretty basic investigations, all of the pieces of this dull puzzle start to fall into place and the ultimate reveal occurs with very little emotional investment on my end.
Josh Brolin is fine in the lead role, but his character is unsavory to say the least, which is part of the problem. Joe deserved what he got, and we don't' really care if he gets revenge because why should he? My main issue with Oldboy starts behind the camera. This is a Spike Lee film, and had I not known that going in I would have never figured it out. Aside from his trademark character dolly shot, there is nothing remotely visionary or invigorating in Lee's direction. Lee has always had a wonderfully creative eye and has packed a punch in his camera work. Here, the entire film is milquetoast, bland and flat and forgettable. This was a tall order for anyone to remake Park's original Oldboy, but I must say news that Spike Lee was directing it intrigued me. I only wish he would have directed it the way I know he can.