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The wrong thing

Consider "Oldboy" Spike Lee's cover version of "If I Had a Hammer." This American remake of a 2003 Korean revenge drama stars Josh Brolin as the victim of a bizarre kidnapping and 20-year imprisonment. Upon his release, the protagonist must determine who did this to him and why he's being framed for his wife's murder. The character's ally in amateur detective work is a pliable social worker played by Elizabeth Olsen. By the time everyone on screen realizes what's up, and who's who, the audience may be more in a "Why? Why?" mood.

Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy" was distinguished chiefly by the filmmaker's rigorous and intensely formal visual style. With Lee, who's more of a stylistic grazer and change-up artist, the sleek lines of the original have been replaced by a wobbly directorial signature. Many things about the remake hew closely to the 2003 version. Thanks to screenwriter Mark Protosevich, other aspects of the story have been revised, leading to a more strenuously complex resolution, with an even ickier ick factor.

What, exactly, drew Lee to an "Oldboy" remake? You can't really tell from watching the film. It's a labyrinthine mystery that doesn't seem to exist on Earth. It's hermetic, deliberately artificial, focused on its own fancy misfortunes and old scores, waiting for settlement. Brolin broods and suffers extremely well. As the mysterious string-puller, Sharlto Copley slinks and oozes and oozes and slinks, and continues to be deliver a bit too much every second, in action or in repose. The revenge in "Oldboy" is neither sweet nor sour. It's just drab.

MPAA rating: R

Running time: 1:43

Opens: Wednesday

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