Josh Brolin, Elisabeth Olsen

Directed by Spike Lee
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 1.5
Community: star rating
5 1.5 0
November 27, 2013

Josh Brolin is such a fine, intuitive actor that matching him up with Spike Lee, an uneven, untethered, not-afraid-to-fail director, to Americanize Park Chan-wook's 2003 Korean cult classic Oldboy exudes potential. On paper. What's onscreen feels squeezed, truncated and curiously embalmed. It's got no kick to it. Brolin gives his all and then some playing Joe Doucett, a workaholic ad exec who neglects his estranged wife and young daughter in pursuit of his next drink. After an all-night bender, Joe wakes up in a shabby hotel room with no windows. For the next 20 years, Chinese food and vodka is shoved under Joe's door at regular intervals. Otherwise, the world passes him by on a TV screen, including a true-crime reality show that reminds audiences that Joe killed his wife back in 1993. When he's suddenly released, with a smartphone in his pocket, Joe vows vengeance. Director Park made that vengeance electrifying, starting with the protagonist devouring a live octopus that tries to climb out of his throat. A sushi nightmare! Sadly, nothing feels alive in this movie. Joe does meet a sweet social worker, Mia (Elizabeth Olsen). And in an effort to understand the hows and whys of his imprisonment, he copes with the villainous likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley. Note to same: Overacting is no substitute for genuine energy. The festering secrets that rocked the original film get trotted out like plot points in a bad soap opera. There's no grandeur. No thrills. No cymbals (or symbols) crashing to shock us into feeling what Joe feels. Oldboy just lies there like old news that's not worth a second thought.

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