Director: Spike Lee.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Samuel L. Jackson, James Ransone.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Synopsis: An advertising executive is kidnapped and held hostage for twenty years in solitary confinement. When he is inexplicably released, he embarks on an obsessive mission to discover who orchestrated his punishment, only to find he is still trapped in a web of conspiracy and torment.
Let’s be honest. Director Spike Lee’s latest joint was always on a hiding to nothing when following the same path as Park Chan-wook’s unforgettable masterpiece, OLDBOY. For those of us who have seen 2003’s South Korean cult smash and just how our chief protagonist’s tortured journey lingers long in the memory thanks to a jaw-dropping finale, it was invariably going to be an impossible task to overcome. Sadly, this is indeed the case as Lee and screenwriter Mark Protosevich offer very little in terms of reinterpretation and even less with a building of suspense or relationships.
Yes, Josh Brolin is solid as asshole advertising executive Joe Doucett, who we immediately learn is a self-serving alcoholic scumbag and deadbeat dad. There is very little time spent getting to know Joe before his mysterious incarceration, and it’s perhaps this reason why the odyssey to come never feels as emotional as it should. Doucett’s redemption – to see his daughter Mia again and prove his innocence – is eclipsed by that for revenge. It’s always a stronger element of his personality and in this aspect, whatever path he goes down is always going to be steeped in contempt. Of course, that’s the whole point to proceedings, but there is little Brolin can do with what he has at his disposal. Relationships are pivotal to Chan-wook’s original ultra-violent adaptation, but Lee does not spend enough time on this character development stage, particularly with Elizabeth Olsen’s social worker, Marie.
Where OLDBOY falls flat is in the casting of chief antagonist Sharlto Copley. After his superb work in Neill Blomkamp’s DISTRICT 9 and even Joe Carnahan’s fun actionfest THE A-TEAM, his Adrian Pryce is woefully over-the-top. In a number of his key scenes, you begin to question how the cast and crew kept a straight face whilst delivering cringeworthy dialogue in a soft English accent that never once feels plausible or threatening. Even his facial expressions suggest he’d much rather be playing the crazed and comical Murdock again. He’s horribly miscast and as those infamous revelations come hammering home, it’s difficult to care or feel satisfied. You get the sense he’s even lampooning the director and thinking, “Really? You’re allowing me to go in this direction?”
Also proving a distraction is Lee’s reuniting with Samuel L. Jackson. His scene between his ruthless gangster tied to a table and Brolin’s extraction of answers (and flesh) is inserted between two hammer-swinging set-pieces and a silly yellow mohawk takes away any intensity. It again sparks up more unintentional laughs than wincing grimaces.
On the whole, a remake of OLDBOY was a bad idea. Why those involved felt a desire to retrace steps knowing they were never going to surprise or top in the same way, it’s difficult to see what brought such talent to the project. Lee had to do something very special and ultimately different, yet the small changes made to the story have very little effect, resulting in what is effectively a straight retread of the same stinging tale. Lacking motivation and most of all impact (the original’s most important tool), keeping the authentic Eastern ambience only proves to preserve prevalence of the superior original.