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Flicks With Nik: ‘Oldboy’ adaptation disappoints, ‘Bad Grandpa’ brings laughs

When I heard there was going to be an American remake of Oldboy directed by no less than Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing) I about lost my mind.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

I was doing Snoopy dances until I asked myself that most terrifying of questions a movie geek can ask: What if it blows?

Here’s the short and sweet summary for those of you in the dark. Oldboy is a Korean film based off of a Japanese manga. The film adaptation was directed by Park Chan-wook (Stoker) and yes, it gets weird. Like, REALLY WEIRD.

An alcoholic deadbeat wakes up in a motel room and quickly comes to realize that a lifetime of misdeeds has finally caught up with him. Though at first inclined to end it all, he ultimately decides to break free of his Hotel California-esque prison (You can check out anytime you like/ but you can never leave) and take vengeance on his captors.

So, with only a television set to guide him he begins a rigorous physical training regimen, kicking the booze and teaching himself to fight. After 15 years (20 in the American version) he is inexplicably released as quickly as he was imprisoned, given a new suit, cash, and a phone.

He then sets to purpose of unraveling the twisted mystery of his abduction and the fate of his daughter, who was but a toddler when he went missing. The violence in the original is brutal and realistic, and a particular fight scene in a narrow hallway is a notable piece of filmmaking (it is almost entirely one long Kubrickian tracking shot) and choreography as it involves the hero (Oh Dae-Su) armed with a hammer and about 50 punks with kendo sticks, each painfully outclassed even after Dae-Su is stabbed in the back.

And perhaps because I loved the original so much, I had high hopes this veteran filmmaker could make it just a wee bit better. What I failed to remember about Spike Lee is that his misses parallel his hits.

Do The Right Thing was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress; She Hate Me has a score of 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. And unfortunately this adaptation was penned by Mark Protosevich, the writer of such fare as The Cell, Poseidon, and I Am Legend. Why this film wasn’t written by an Akiva Goldsman, or a John Logan, or Lee himself (who was once nominated for an academy award for Best Original Screenplay) is beyond me.

This film lacks the meaningful narration present in the original, and has almost none of the style and flair either. In trying to cut to the chase, the filmmakers cut out pretty much all the good stuff. All they have left is a dark brooding Josh Brolin (far cry from Brand, Mikey’s brother from The Goonies), cartoony fight sequences, and Elizabeth Olsen’s beauty.

The film does not make use of its talented director, cast, or crew. It also succeeds in making less sense of the plot’s already thin resolution (a strange concoction of gossip and incest).

Sorry if I spoiled anything for you, my cherished readers, but I’d rather save you the $10 and tell you to catch the far superior original on Netflix Instant Watch for free.

Or at least watch the hallway fight on YouTube. I’ll end with this question: if 15 years of imaginary training can actually be put to use, why can’t 30 years of actual experience?

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

As any young American man my age did, I grew up on Jackass even if those daredevils are perpetually 12 years old. And while their antics did inspire my friends and I to do some stupid things (true story: my roommate and I zapped ourselves with a shock collar for a full hour less than a week ago and we were completely sober), it was mainly just something to keep us entertained while we moved on to bigger things.

Bad Grandpa does something that previous Jackass films refused to: it provides a framework. Sans any of his usual cohorts, Johnny Knoxville is expected to carry the bulk of the film, and he succeeds beautifully though he is endearingly matched by his pint sized costar Jackson Nicoll.And oddly enough, the story is set around a character from a sketch that’s funny in small doses.

Irving Zisman’s wife of many years has just passed away, leaving this sex starved octa-degenerate (yeah, I’m that damn clever) in search of a happy ending at 10 in the morning.

With no strip clubs or massage parlors to patronize, Zisman literally seeks out any slot that’s open leading to a gut busting encounter with a snack machine of ill repute.

Before Irving can begin enjoying what’s left of his life as a free man, he is tasked by his drug addled prison bound daughter with delivering his estranged grandson Billy to his deadbeat father in North Carolina.

So begins a road movie beset on all sides by comic mischief and unexpected heart. While Knoxville chases skirts and wreaks havoc, Nicoll wins over passerby with his persisting charm.

And while the film itself shares many similarities with Little Miss Sunshine, it is veritably an original work. It is exactly the kind of story you would expect from the minds of Jackass alums Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine, and Spike Jonze (director of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Her). Fast, funny, offbeat, and fearless.

Do yourself a favor and take the money you save on Oldboy and go see Bad Grandpa. I caught this movie twice in as many weeks, once with my boisterous buddies and then with Oatmeal, my demure girlfriend.

Her blushing laughter at the sight of prosthetic 80 year old low hangers slapping the legs of Ladies Night male strippers: absolutely, positively, priceless.

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