Oldboy (★½)

oldboy_ver4I’m not too big a fan of the original Oldboy, but in comparison to Spike Lee‘s new remake, the version from Chan-wook Park is basically a masterpiece. This one is all but terrible on nearly all levels, so not only is it just a letdown for anyone expecting something from this film, it’s just an outright bad movie too. Lee is an inconsistent director and a totally wrong fit for the material here, while writer Mark Protosevich only seems to make questionable at best decisions on the page. The main similarities to the original are in terms of problems with the flick, but at the same time, each new choice Lee and Protosevich made were just as misguided. The cast is left with little to do, so while Josh Brolin is decently broody, he’s underserved by the material, and don’t get me started on how little Elizabeth Olsen has to do. Brolin apparently preferred a longer, two hour plus cut of Lee’s Oldboy to this under two hour one, and considering how much room for improvement there is, I think Brolin was on to something, or at least potentially on to something. Somehow, this went from being a potentially top notch film to being in contention for my worst of 2013 list. Alas…

The basic story is the same here as it was in the original, a twisted revenge tale. Here, we have Joe Doucette (Brolin) wandering the streets in a drunken stupor before mysteriously vanishing in front of the bar of his friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli). Chucky thinks he just went home, but in reality Joe has been abducted and placed in a bare bones hotel that’s going to function as his prison. Quickly he discovers that someone has framed him for the murder of his wife, potentially leaving him in this room to rot, plus depriving him of watching his daughter grow up. Years pass, eventually coming close to two decades, but Joe decides to keep the will to live so he can find the person who did this. At the 20 year mark (he tattoos himself to keep track, plus he has television), he’s released without warning. Waking up with some money, a phone, and a desire for revenge, he sets out to exact just that. Before long, he’s helped by a young woman named Marie Sebastian (Olsen) who finds him wandering the streets, while the stranger (Sharlto Copley) who imprisoned Joe begins showing his face and makes him an offer…if Joe can figure out who he is and why he did this to Joe, he’ll reward him and kill himself. If not, his daughter will die. Joe has no choice, but he has no idea what he’s getting himself into…

oldboy-remake-pushed-back-until-november-141469-a-1375165533-400-80For the most part, the cast does try their best, but they’re just given so little to work with. None of them are wrong for their parts per say, but I think the writing and direction here aren’t tailored to them at all. Josh Brolin has some solid moments in the lead, especially when he’s required to fight, but his performance can come off very one note. There are exceptions, but Brolin for the most part is just decent. Elizabeth Olsen is fine too, but her character is just given absolutely nothing interesting to do. She’s wasted, and Olsen deserves better than that. Sharlto Copley hams it up and chews the scenery, but many of his affectations provide laughs more than anything else, most of which are not intentional. Credit Copley for not playing it safe and boring, but he’s not working with too much. Samuel L. Jackson has a supporting part where he’s basically himself, and the rest of the cast includes the aforementioned Michael Imperioli as well as Max Casella, Rami Malek, James Ransone, and others, but no one leaves an impression.

While I have no clue what a Steven Spielberg/Will Smith version of this movie would have looked like (as was rumored for a while), and probably wouldn’t have liked that one either if it had the same script as this one, I do think it would have had to have been better than what Lee delivers here. He never seems interested in the material, so it’s a very workmanlike performance. A lot of the blame definitely goes to Protosevich and his script, but Lee could have at least tried to make things more interesting. This could easily have been done by any generic filmmaker and wouldn’t have been any worse. He never even goes too far out there, this is a tamer film than the original in a number of ways, up to and including their choice of ending, which is all I’ll say about that. There are sporadic moments where this becomes more than watchable, but they’re few and far between. My main issue is the writing though, since everything is reduced to its least interesting version possible. Perhaps Lee’s longer cut rectified some of the scribe’s shortcomings, but who knows there? Maybe it was actually worse? I doubt that, but I’m not exactly clamoring to see it either.

I never expected to be as down on this version of Oldboy as I am, especially since I think the original film has room for improvement. There’s no improvement here though, just lots of regression. With Spike Lee doing nothing of note in the director’s chair and the entire cast hamstrung by a lame screenplay, the end result is one of the poorest movies of the year so far. I take no pleasure in saying that, but it’s quite simply the truth.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!