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'Oldboy': The performances are over-the-top but underfelt

'Oldboy' is, like the original film, not for the squeamish.

Hilary Bronwyn Gale/AP
'Oldboy' stars Samuel L. Jackson.

The Korean director Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” is one of those movies that is routinely referred to as “not for the squeamish.” Neither is Spike Lee’s remake, starring Josh Brolin as Joe Doucett, a philandering screw-up who suddenly finds himself imprisoned in a hotel room and remains a prisoner for 20 years. His release is just as mysterious. Why was he set free and who put him inside in the first place?

Lee is very good at creating a sense of free-floating dread, but he, and his screenwriter Mark Protosevich, don’t have a real flair for pulp (or, as with David Lynch, the hallucinatory horrors of pulp). “Oldboy” is a ghastly, sodden experience, and the performances, as is often true in Lee’s films, are overscaled and underfelt. Elizabeth Olsen, trying hard to portray a reasonably real person, plays a helpmate-turned-lovemate for Joe, and Samuel L. Jackson, as the ostensible imprisoner, chalks up another Mr. Nasty for his portfolio. Grade: C+ (Rated R for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language.)

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