Movie review: Spike Lee's 'Oldboy,' 2 stars
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley
"Oldboy" finds its way into the realm of inexplicable remakes with this re-imagining, which transforms the 2003 Korean horror-thriller classic into the world's most unlikely Spike Lee movie.
Yes, the director of "Do the Right Thing" and other classic American slices of life somehow wound up helming this Grand Guignol drama about a hammer-wielding man named Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) seeking revenge on his unknown captors after being inexplicably locked in a room resembling a fleabag motel for 20 years.
He's the wrong director for a story that requires bold embellishments and a keen sense of the absurd. The result is a ponderous, long-winded journey that uncomfortably combines Lee's realist sensibility and social conscience with grandiose violence and despair.
Joe's all-consuming madness is set against images of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the other world events he's missed while confined to his prison. The horrors are personal, too, as Joe watches his estranged wife's murder on the news and learns that his daughter has been taken to live with foster parents.
The movie follows Joe on a journey into the deepest recesses of his past as he tries to make sense of his captivity, and in that sense it's consistent with the filmmaker's searing past portraits of the American conscience.
But when it comes to crafting and shooting scenes of bloody mayhem, to producing an aesthetic that reflects the melodramatic twists and turns of the manga upon which the film is based, Lee falls woefully short. Despite the occasional visual flourish -- a hallway illuminated blood-red, home movies projected on the wall, reflecting Joe's imagination -- the movie exudes drabness.
It's clinical and detached, packed with distancing wide shots, when it should be operatic and immersive. The violence is too real for such a heightened story and Lee puts it out there with an off-putting matter-of-factness.
The actors, save for Sharlto Copley, follow suit. The result is a movie that is too ridiculous to be taken seriously and far too self-serious to qualify as escapist entertainment.