Hesitantly anticipated by many for several very valid reasons, Spike Lee’s English-language Oldboy update is every bit as banal as it is desperate to achieve something it can’t. The Americanized stab at the source Manga follows down-and-out Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) as volatile pigheadedness results in unemployment. After fervently drowning his sorrows, Joe awakes in a daze the following morning inside an unflattering hotel suite. Unable to leave or procure a reason for said imprisonment, Joe spends the next twenty years as the wrongfully accused murderer of his wife, that is until he’s inexplicably set free and left to his and soon-to-be collaborator Marie’s (Elizabeth Olsen) devices to exact vengeance on those responsible.
It’s no surprise that the tale unnecessarily being retold is one of attainable redemption and revenge at the hands of an unlikable central character. Brolin’s Joe, needless to say, is just that – a would-be alcoholic and has-been womanizer whose vices overshadow his obligations as a responsible parent. While unceremoniously incarcerated, Joe learns the error of his ways and soon enough, we have Joe 2.0 – a born-again version of his former flawed self that’s ready to seek out and love his daughter, just as soon as he fillets his captors out of warranted rage.
Barring this extensive bit of synopsis, it’s the passage of time element that works most to Oldboy‘s advantage, what with the ensuing content doing nothing but marginally reworking the original’s narrative by way of setting and questionable stylistic flair. As its rock, Brolin does a fine job in holding his own despite being paired with some of the least compelling supporting characters to plague contemporary cinema, Olsen’s Marie included. From her hastily implemented yet all-important involvement to the cartoon caricature of a central villain (Copley), the film’s sparse remaining strengths are often rendered naught in the wake of awkward, ineffective humanism and general silliness.
Although the point can be proven negligible given the trappings of the source material, familiarity often trumps surprise and suspense as Joe’s unfettered and surprisingly well-choreographed hammer-centric onslaught remains a worthy – if nearly lone – benchmark. Such a reality is in theory a shame, what with Lee’s obvious departure from his distinctly niche body of work proving all-too-promising from this project’s announcement onward, however this amateurish Points-A-to-B retread is plain unremarkable for all those with even the slightest knowledge of its source inspirations. It’s clumsy, unrefined as such and soulless – three things that a thematically weighty tale of this magnitude should never be.