[Review] – Red Hook Summer

31 Aug

Title: Red Hook Summer
Year: 2012
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Spike Lee
Starring: Clarke Peters, Nate Parker, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Toni Lysaith, Jules Brown
MPAA Rating: R, brief violence, language and a disturbing situation
Runtime: 121 min
IMDb Rating: 4.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Metacritic: 50

Red Hook Summer is the latest Spike Lee “joint”, as he likes to call his movies, and it’s also the sixth in his Chronicles of Brooklyn series that includes the absolute masterpiece Do The Right Thing, and the first in it since He Got Game from 1998 (that film, which was also pretty great, had a fantastic performance from Ray Allen, proving that some athletes can act). This film is about Flik Royale, a young boy from Atlanta, grandson of the deeply religious Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse, whom he goes to spend his summer with in the housing projects of Red Hook.

Things start off kind of rough, not only is Flik experiencing the culture shock that comes from moving to Brooklyn, but he’s also having to deal with his grandfather, a person he had never met before and who’s always preaching, trying to convert Flik to Christianism. His summer seems to be doomed, but that’s when things start changing, aided by the introduction of a cute girl his age named Chazz, as Flik starts realizing there’s much more to the world than he initially thought.

Now, look, Red Hook Summer is not a bad film, but I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t expecting something more from the first new entry in the Chronicles of Brooklyn series in nearly a decade and a half. I mean, yes, the film does touch upon a wide array of topics that are important and tough, and visually it’s indeed just bursting with life, and the performances and the setting are terrific. The thing is, though, that, to me, as far as the storytelling goes, I thought this whole thing was rather messy, and maybe Mr. Lee needed to do an extra draft or two of his screenplay. This is one of those films that’s disappointing and at the same time is totally worth a watch.

That’s actually something you just have to respect though, you know? While you watch this film, which runs for two hours, it’s actually kind of clear that this is a failure, just totally shoddy and meandering, probably not exactly what Spike Lee wanted to get out of it, and yet there’s this rawness to it, this vitality added to the fact that he’s still getting to some pretty interesting places with it, and you can’t help but be compelled by it. That’s kind of been one of the cool things about the director over the years, that he’s always trying to do too much, to tell too much story and fit in too many characters; and even when that fails, you just have to be happy there’s somebody out there doing that kind of stuff.

As the film chugs along it has this feeling of great spontaneity to it, you know, as though Mr. Lee and his ensemble were just kind of figuring it all out on the go, and that’s where the rawness I speak of comes from. Flik is just a fish out of water here, not venturing anywhere without his iPad 2 (the kid goes to a private school back home) which, his grandfather tells him, he uses as a wall, blocking himself from the real world that’s out there. And indeed this new world is totally different from what Flik’s used to, which is why it’s so great to see this kind of friendship being established with Chazz in a way Mr. Lee is so good at doing, with him presenting her world to him. Also terrific is seeing his relationship with his grandfather evolving.

The fact that the screenplay is the worst aspect of this film also enables you to look harder at the things that this one does so right. Aesthetically, like I said, the film offers up quite a lot, which adds to the feel of the entire piece. Granted, this was made in less than a month on a really short budget, so it kind of feels shoddy even in those bits at times, but Mr. Lee is all about just switching up the visual style of this film and he knows how to keep you entrapped just by how the film moves and looks, and that’s cool.

Then there comes a point about halfway into the movie in which something big happens that kind of throws the whole thing for a loop, something that may leave a lot of the characters sort of up in the air, confusing their individual storylines, but that elicits some great material from Clarke Peters, who plays Da Good Bishop. He’s an actor that really knows how to dominate a frame, and who charges the film with electricity, many times in scenes that don’t even require him talking.

That’s the thing, though: individually there are a lot of really great pieces here, and Mr. Lee is hellbent on exploring these issues of race and drugs and unemployment and faith, but I just felt that they didn’t add up to something as big and as great as it evidently was going for. Again, it’s a messy film, but I still recommend it just because it’s cool to see Spike Lee delivering one of these films that only he can make because of how well he understands not only the people, but the setting, too. And it’s also worthy of a recommendation because you get to see Mr. Lee back playing Mookie, the pizza delivery guy from Do The Right Thing; that was awesome.

Grade: B-

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