Worshipped by a legion of fanboys and cinephiles, Korean master Park Chan-wook’s groundbreaking 2003 thriller Oldboy gets a mostly blah American remake at the hands of Spike Lee. To be honest, Lee’s “reimagining” of the original film isn’t all that imaginative at all – exact shots and entire set-ups from the original film are duplicated – thus prompting you to ask why he bothered to remake it in the first place.

Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, an alcoholic advertising executive and all-round asshole who, after a particularly inebriated night, wakes up in a dingy hotel room with a bed, shower, and a television set, but no exit. 20 years later when he is released, just as mysteriously as he was imprisoned, he becomes determined to find out who put him through that hell and why, and also to exact revenge on that person.
 
 
Oddly, this remake never bears its filmmaker’s unique stamp, and doesn’t quite achieve the shockingly brutal tone of the original film either, coming off in fact as an unmistakably muted exercise…particularly after the Indian censors have had their way with it. Lee replicates many of the original film’s bloody, violent set pieces – Doucett does some serious damage when he’s out and about with a hammer – but he fails to deliver the same levels of atmosphere or menace.
 
Samuel L Jackson as one of Joe’s torturers is more of a laugh than anything else, and Elizabeth Olsen as a soulful social worker helping Joe piece together his life, seems too smart to play this trusting sap. Sharlto Copley, however, gets it just right, as the creepy (and occasionally hammy) billionaire with mysterious motives. But it’s Josh Brolin, in the central role, who makes this film somewhat endurable thanks to a fine, intuitive performance. Alas, he’s given so little to work with.
 
I’m going with two out of five for Spike Lee’s disappointing Oldboy. Like our very own Sanjay Gupta’s desi remake Zinda, this one too is all style over any real substance.
 

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