SPIKE LEE deserves some credit for not turning in a mediocre movie with his remake of Park Chan-wook's 2003 revenge classic Oldboy. Mediocre is what you expect from an American remake of a foreign movie—the same plot, with all the idiosyncrasies that made it interesting scrubbed away. Mediocre movies are a dime a dozen. They're easy to make, forgettable, and they teach us nothing. Making one as transcendently terrible, as breathtakingly tone deaf and ill advised as Lee's Oldboy, on the other hand, is an achievement. A truly bad film is as rare as a great one, and watching one is a compelling experience in its own right. The stars have to align just right for things to go as wrong as this: Terrible ideas have to be suggested, seconded, and dutifully produced, and then multiplied by spontaneous misses and happy accidents of badness. The result isn't a "train wreck," because train wrecks don't have blueprints and construction workers. No, Oldboy is more like a Winchester Mystery House of filmmaking, where stairways lead to walls and hallways empty into thin air. You wouldn't want to live there, sure, but it does inspire you to wonder how it could've happened.
The one thing Lee does do well is to create a grounded sense of time and place. This works perfectly against Oldboy's actual plot, which is more like a Bible story or a fable about being undone by one's quest for knowledge. Imagine Cain and Abel if it starred your neighbors Pete and Steve, and Tony down the block as God. Suddenly you realize how little sense that whole thing made. That's Lee's Oldboy in a nutshell, which doesn't have a sense of otherness to excuse its plot holes. Meanwhile, Sharlto Copley's ascot-wearing, opera-listening, wingtip-wearing, weird art-collecting, Asian concubine-keeping bad guy plays like an attempt to create the cheesiest bad guy of all time.
I'd recommend Oldboy to anyone. It makes the ultimate conversation piece. Disasters like this don't come along every day.