Garbage never smells good, but you won’t find a landfill anywhere more offensive than Spike Lee’s stupid remake of Oldboy, the 2003 horror flick from South Korea by Park Chan-wook. This one stinks at 10 below zero.
What passes for a labored, disjointed plot involves a drunken, disheveled screw-up (Josh Brolin), who wakes up naked in a dark, seedy motel room with no doors or windows and with no knowledge of how he got there. Every once in a while, a tray is shoved through a panel containing a bottle of vodka and a plate of greasy Chinese dumplings. On the TV news, he learns his wife has been raped and murdered, his baby daughter has been taken away for adoption and he’s a wanted man. He’s desperate. He masturbates. In his loneliness, he befriends a white mouse that gives birth to a family of mice; a moment later, on his food tray, he finds the entire litter boiled and served on a bloody dish. This goes on for—would you believe?—20 years! And the director makes sure we live through every agonizing minute of it.
With plenty of time to do push-ups, don a pair of boxer shorts, lose pounds of belly fat and go cold turkey on the vodka, he emerges from his prison cell in a Louis Vuitton trunk in the middle of a field with a single goal: revenge! As someone who has not seen daylight for 20 years, he adapts instantly to cell phones and computers. Elizabeth Olsen plays the young woman who tries to help him trace the clues to his past, including the Chinese restaurant that delivered all of those thousands of disgusting fried dumplings. The trail leads to a barrage of killers skilled in the use of tai chi, kung fu and baseball bats. Mr. Brolin uses his new 20-year-old deltoids to slash throats, splash blood all over the walls, blow people’s brains out and drive nails through the hands of villain Samuel L. Jackson, wearing a white Mohawk. Enter the chief maniac responsible for the carnage, violence, mayhem and what passes for a storyline. He promises to release Mr. Brolin’s kidnapped daughter and reward him with a pile of priceless diamonds if he can answer two questions: “Who am I?” and “Why did I imprison you for 20 years?” If he fails, well, just pray there’s no sequel. There’s another hour to go.
Oldboy keeps going, always promising one more shock to keep you nauseated and more work to be done with a shotgun and a tire iron. The longer it drags on, the sillier it gets. A preposterous narrative, illogical red herrings, trick endings, bad acting and—shazam!—Spike Lee turns into M. Night Shyamalan! Remakes are always odious, but to recycle a pretentious underground mixture of the soporific and the supernatural, imported from Seoul, comes pretty close to a display of bankrupt imagination, if you ask me. It certainly doesn’t say much for a respected director’s reputation for originality in the cinema.
WRITTEN BY Mark Protosevich
DIRECTED BY Spike Lee
STARRING Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley
RUNNING TIME 104 min.