Sunday, December 1, 2013


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.

As I said, things have been changed in this new Oldboy.  This time around, the protagonist is Joe Doucett, played by Josh Brolin.  Where we learned very little about the original protagonist in 2003, we spend more time with Joe and we find out spending time with him is quite a painful experience.  Joe Doucett is a drunk and just an all around nasty sonofabitch.  He doesn't have time for his ex wife or his young daughter, and he seems to mess up a big account at work purposefully by hitting on the client's wife at dinner.  Staggering around Chinatown in this faceless city is where Joe is abducted and held in a hotel room for the next twenty years (the original was fifteen years) by an unknown captor.  He is fed regularly, always dumplings, and he is gassed and groomed and early on is framed for the murder of his wife.  There is a TV in the room where Joe watches life change in America between 1993 and the present.  Just as he is about to escape, he is inexplicably let free.

Dumped in a field in a sharp black suit, inside a Louis Vitton trunk, with an iPhone and some cash, Joe stumbles around for a bit trying to find a thread that will lead him to his captor.  He seeks the help of an old friend, Chucky (Michael Imperioli), who runs a bar and assists him in Googling former enemies.  Technology takes a front seat throughout the whole picture, and it is very distracting.  Joe also meets up with a young girl named Marie, a caring young woman who takes an instant liking to Joe and tries to help him anyway she can.  Marie is played by Elizabeth Olsen, one of my favorite young actresses, and while she is solid in what must have been a challenging physical role, her character is ultimately just as uninteresting as all the rest.

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.