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"Oldboy": Do the Wrong Thing, with Spike Lee 

Wednesday, Nov 27 2013
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This is a durably movie-ready concept if ever there was one. A loutish drunkard finds himself abducted and stashed in solitary confinement for 20 years, then abruptly released and wondering: What was that all about? Also: Which way to revenge? The original Oldboy wasn't exactly original, but Park Chan-wook's celebrated film made such exuberant and imaginative use of a pulp scenario that it got a lot of people's attention. Spike Lee, for one, who now has remade it with style and skill but without enough oddity or purpose. In the lead role, Josh Brolin gets a very watchable variety of appearances, and a more limited range of feelings. He looks great as a black-suited bruiser but can't seem to help also being a bore. It might be something in the atmosphere of directorial detachment: Surely this being a genre exercise and a style showpiece didn't mandate a Samuel L. Jackson on autopilot, a tediously mannered Sharlto Copley, an Elizbeth Olsen who's lovely but not much else. The driving plot is sufficiently twisted, in more than one sense, but visceral thrills and athletic camerawork seem only to bring out the actors' limitations. Fans of the first Oldboy should enjoy how Lee has leveled up certain set pieces, and reflexive remake-haters should enjoy carping about superfluity. Does that make this movie a crowd-pleaser? Lee has said the violence isn't cartoonish, but it is, because the scenario is. Of course even his masterpiece Do the Right Thing has cartoonish aspects, which goes to show how much intention matters. The most unexpected, unsettling thing about Oldboy is that it's somehow a Spike Lee joint without any discernible point of view.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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