Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to Brooklyn for Spike Lee

Spike Lee returns to Brooklyn for Red Hook Summer, one of the gifted director's least satisfying and most puzzling movies yet. This time, Lee focuses on the relationship between a teen-ager (Jules Brown) and his grandfather (Clarke Peters). The young man, who lives in Atlanta, is taken to New York by his mother (De'Adre Aziza) so that he can spend a summer with the grandfather he has never met. Not surprisingly, Brown's "Flik" isn't happy to be cooped up in a small apartment in Red Hook's projects. To make matters worse, Flik isn't the least bit religious and his grandfather is an old-school preacher. Familiar from both The Wire and Treme, Peters is a fine actor, but he's stranded without much of a script. Long scenes in the Lil' Peace Of Heaven Baptist Church tend to make you wonder whether Lee, co-wrote the script with James McBride, knew where he wanted to take a cast of characters that includes Chazz (Toni Lysaith), a no-nonsense girl who becomes Flik's friend. Lee makes a cameo appearance as Mookie, the character he played in Do the Right Thing. Some 23 years later, the savvy Mookie is still stuck delivering pizzas, which might be the strongest comment Lee has to make in this mostly languid movie. For the longest time, nothing much happens in a movie that shows Flik trying to film everything he sees with his iPad 2. Then, something dramatic does happen. The trouble is that Lee hasn't laid the groundwork for a major reveal that turns the movie into a blur of pain and emotional confusion. I won't disclose the movie's big twist, but it makes Red Hook Summer seem like an entirely different film from the one Lee began. Lee displays demonstrable fondness for this Brooklyn neighborhood and for some of its residents, but Red Hook Summer simply doesn't work.

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