Published Nov 27, 2013Spike Lee's arrogance has reached appalling new heights with his remake of Park Chan-wook's masterful adaptation of the Japanese manga series, Oldboy. And despite what the prickly, humourless filmmaker says, it's definitely a remake of Park's movie, not a "re-imagining" of the source material. Sure, there are a number of surface alterations and a few major plot points are re-jigged, but those plot points, and indeed many of the scenes — including the style of the famous hammer fight — draw directly from elements created by Park and his co-screenwriters.
Credit subterfuge and Lee's bloated ego aside, this Oldboy is quite simply a bad film. Operatic histrionics are difficult to balance tonally and in Lee's hands the results are downright cheesy with a side of soapy sleaze. Some barely developed blather about economic instability opens the movie before belligerent drunkard Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is lured into a forced confinement that will last 20 years. Alone in a sealed hotel room with limited television access as his only contact with the outside world, Joe faces down his demon in a bottle during his years of psychological torture. Like the original, the passage of time is marked by newscasts.
Unlike Park's Oldboy, our vengeance-driven protagonist is released right on the verge of escaping, not after all hope of freedom has been crushed. It's one of the many subtleties lost in Lee's sloppy blunt-force take on the tale of a man forced to dig through his sordid past to figure out who he wronged enough to inspire such vitriol. Brutal, graphic gore takes the place of specific, symbolic, cringe-inducing acts of sadism and semi-realistic fight scenes; here, Joe Doucett is a vicious, efficient killer his first time in a real fight. Furthermore, the film is riddled with frail logic and half-assed continuity quibbles. For example: Doucett doesn't visibly age during his twenty-year imprisonment, nor does his buddy Chucky (Michael Imperioli). Worse than that, though, is how utterly ridiculous Lee's plot alterations renders the motive of Doucett's captor (Sharlto Copley, doing his best Seneca Crane impression).
Hopefully some good will come of this embarrassing, inconsistent misfire and new viewers will be inspired to seek out the original. Otherwise, the only way to enjoy Spike Lee's Oldboy is as a cheap, garish, amazingly stupid unintentional farce.