(US - 2013)
Directed by Spike Lee. Written by Mark Protosevich. Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff, James Ransone, Max Casella, Linda Emond, Lance Reddick, Hannah Ware, Richard Portnow, Elvis Nolasco, Rami Malek, Caitlin Dulany, Cinque Lee. (R, 104 mins)
Park Chan-wook's 2003 film OLDBOY was the second part of the director's "Vengeance" trilogy of stand-alone films connected by the common theme of obsessive revenge, coming between 2002's SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and 2005's LADY VENGEANCE. OLDBOY was the first to be released in the US, in the spring of 2005, and it became an immediate hit with cult and arthouse audiences for its savage violence, stylish direction, and creative set pieces, most notably a long, single-take sequence where the hero takes on an endless hallway full of thugs while armed with just a hammer, plus an instantly-legendary scene where the lead actor eats a live octopus. Anchored by a galvanizing, ferocious performance by Choi Min-Sik and a devastating plot twist near the end, OLDBOY is almost universally considered a modern classic, so an American remake was inevitable. It marks an unusual project for Spike Lee, who's in total director-for-hire mode here, bringing none of his usual style to the proceedings (it's very telling that it's "A Spike Lee Film" and not "A Spike Lee Joint"). After a moderate level of hype in past months, FilmDistrict dumped this on just 500 screens for Thanksgiving with almost no publicity other than star Josh Brolin entering rehab just a few days prior, and both Brolin and Lee voicing their displeasure that the producers took the project away from Lee during post-production, cutting anywhere from 35 to 60 minutes out of it, depending on who's telling the story. This is also noteworthy as FilmDistrict's last release before folding and being absorbed by Focus Features, so it's obvious they're just doing the bare minimum here. As far as American remakes for the subtitle-phobic go, OLDBOY isn't bad. It frequently blunders and miscalculates, but admirably doesn't water-down or sugarcoat the shocking major reveal. Lee and screenwriter Mark Protosevich (THE CELL, I AM LEGEND) also alter the rationale for the villain's actions, and believe it or not, that particular element is even more dark and twisted than in Park's original version.
REPO MEN) that goes on longer and is more elaborate but doesn't work as well. Also not working as well is Lee's reliance on what looks like the finest CGI splatter technology that 1997 has to offer (one shotgun blast to the head is just embarrassing). While Choi's performance in Park's film is hard to top, Brolin's level of commitment is undeniably impressive. He both gained and lost weight for the role, then bulked up the muscle (in some scenes, he looks a lot like Brad Davis in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS). While Joe adapts to 2013 life rather quickly (this may have played out more believably in Lee's original cut), Brolin is very good with his halting walk and confusing looks, almost looking like an animal at times. There's even some chance for humor in some of his dialogue, as he incredulously asks Marie "I need to look at the Yellow Pages...where are all the pay phones?" Olsen is charming as the kind-hearted Marie, a damaged soul who sees a strangely kindred spirit in this helpless man who's lost two decades of his life. Where the film's biggest problems arise are with its villains. Samuel L. Jackson has a minor supporting role as the guy overseeing Joe's imprisonment, but he's just an employee. The real antagonist is billionaire Adrian Pryce, played by Sharlto Copley in a performance that can be charitably described as "odd." In the original film, Yu Ji-tae played the villainous Lee Woo-jin as ruthless and mocking. With perfectly-sculpted facial hair and eyebrows, and long, manicured fingernails, Copley plays Pryce as a preening, prissy hybrid of Vincent Price, Dr. Evil, and Paul Lynde. Lee Woo-jin is cold and calculating. Adrian Pryce is an effeminate, over-the-top Bond villain. It doesn't work at all, and while Copley's only doing what he's been directed and scripted to do, his performance is an unmitigated disaster. If I thought Lee watched any Eurotrash flicks at all, I'd swear he had Copley pattern his performance on some of cult actor John Steiner's more colorful turns in gems like SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS.