Pretentious maybe, but in keeping with the fact that he has long been one of America's most unique directors. Oldboy is merely "A Spike Lee Film" and this immediate distinction speaks volumes. A palely disappointing remake of Korean Park Chan-wook's baroque, mysterious and violent thriller, this could have been made by anyone.
The premise, transposed faithfully to the United States, centres on advertising executive and boorish drunk Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin). In the middle of a career-destroying binge, Joe is abducted, awaking in a cell where he will remain - without explanation or any human contact - for the next 20 years.
He does have a TV, from which he learns that his wife has been murdered and that he is the chief suspect. The only thing that keeps him sane in the years that follow are thoughts of his daughter, and of escape. Then one day he wakes up in a field, armed with a mobile phone, sunglasses and a haircut. Joe sets out to find his tormentor - but doesn't stop to think why this unknown enemy decided to free him.
It's a brilliant idea. However, there is nothing here that merits another interpretation, other than the new audiences that an English-language film will attract. Where Park went for everything with gusto, including having his star eat a live octopus for real, Lee holds back (Brolin rather laughably gags on a dumpling). And where Park created an air of elegant mystery, Lee's determination to spell out every twist and turn becomes tiresome. Even in its own right this feels lacklustre.
Brolin is a stolid, one-note lead. In contrast, as his nemesis the South African Sharlto Copley is so affected that you want to give him a good slap.