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'Oldboy' review: Spiked into the ground

** (out of four)

On “How I Met Your Mother,” Ted (Josh Radnor) meeting a woman with a yellow umbrella—his future wife—is a happy occasion, and Marshall’s (Jason Segel) citywide search for memorable flavor leads to satisfaction (and a delicious burger).

In director Spike Lee’s misguided remake of the 2003 South Korean thriller “Oldboy,” similar events hardly count as upbeat. The morning after Joe’s (Josh Brolin) drunken acknowledgment of a woman under an umbrella, he awakens naked in a motel room. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t become his prison for the next 20 years, as a mysterious operation holds him captive and feeds him the same lousy dumplings each night. Seeing on TV that he’s been framed for his ex-wife’s murder and his 3-year-old daughter has been adopted, Joe swears vengeance on his captors and to clean himself up and become a better dad.

All this and more on the next episode of “How I Didn’t Kill Your Mother.”

Park Chan-wook’s original film required considerable suspension of disbelief (and tolerance for teeth being yanked out) to buy into its tragic, long-term story. Written by Illinois native Mark Protosevich (“I Am Legend”), Lee’s “Oldboy” becomes almost comically elaborate—and too much to accept. It gives away nothing to say that previously logical actions and punishments have become confused and minimized, depleting the force of this story of heartbreak and atonement.

Plus, Lee is simply doing things here that aren’t his specialty. As Joe takes on a horde of attackers, Van Damme-style, the dudes on the fringes look hilariously unmenacing. Likewise, when Joe meets his captor and is told he has a certain amount of time to answer questions if he wants to save his daughter, the movie doesn’t adopt the required urgency. This time, the mystery unfolds too clearly and without the monumental weight needed to sustain such hefty jumps in logic.

It’s still pretty funny to see Joe return to society in 2013 like “Encino Man” and ask, “Where are all the pay phones?” Brolin, whose character never becomes the damaged prisoner or once-irresponsible shyster seeking redemption that “Oldboy” requires, is bested by the ever-reliable Elizabeth Olsen as a woman who takes an interest in Joe’s situation. Let’s get cracking on a movie where she’s the one kicking ass and taking names.

Oh. They are. It’s “Avengers 2.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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