Spike Lee's superfluous duplication of Oldboy brings to mind Samuel Johnson's famous 18th-century witticism, likening a woman preaching to a dog walking on its hind legs: "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Was anyone really crying out for an English-language version of the nasty 2003 aboriginal? Korean director Chan-wook Park's sick, savage revenge saga translated all too vividly with subtitles alone.

Lee's reverent re-creation quickly introduces us to the horrid excuse for a human being that is Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin). Joe isn't all that surprised to come to one morning in what looks like a cheap motel room. Until he discovers it's really a cell. Where he will be held in isolation for the next 20 years, his only company the empty cacophony of TV.

Finally released without explanation, Joe is consumed with exacting revenge. But his trial is only beginning.

Lee has maintained Park's most sinister elements, including our arch antihero's weapon of choice - a framing hammer - and the perverse psychosexual twist that pops up at the end of this pitch-black tunnel.

The sheer brutality of Oldboy is stunning, especially a deeply disturbing scene in which Brolin tortures Samuel L. Jackson. But this is an unrelievedly grim and hermetic experience throughout, the cinematic equivalent of blunt trauma.

The best element of the film, which costars Elizabeth Olsen, Michael Imperioli, and District 9's Sharlto Copley, is the piercing, Bernard Herrmannesque score of Roque Baños.

You will be able to relate to Oldboy's barbarian on one level as you are forced to confront the same question that plagues Joe: Why am I being subjected to this grotesque punishment?


Oldboy * 1/2

(out of four stars)

Directed by Spike Lee. With Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sharlto Copley. Distributed by FilmDistrict.

Running time: 1 hour, 44 mins.

Parent's guide: Extreme violence, profanity, substance abuse, nudity, adult themes

Playing at: Loews' Cherry Hill, AMC Plymouth Meeting, AMC Franklin Mills, AMC NeshaminyEndText