By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
It’s almost impossible to believe that the filmmaker of such fresh, provocative, and wildly creative movies as Do the Right Thing, Get on the Bus, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X is also responsible for the painful ramble that is Red Hook Summer.
That said, if you have to choose between attending a sermon or a film, you’re in luck. Spike Lee gives you both. Here, we might as well be sitting in a pew among the twenty or so church-going characters as we suffer through four abysmal scenes in which firebrand preacher Bishop Enoch (an overdone Clarke Peters) carries on from the pulpit, singing, clapping his hands, reading from the Bible and praising Jesus. Oh, it’s church all right. But we have to keep checking to confirm that we’re sitting in a theater as well, since the images bouncing off the screen only minimally resemble a feature film.
The loose story concerns a spoiled, fish-out-of-water teen named Flik (non-actor Jules Brown) who is spending the summer with his preacher grandfather in the projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. Flik misses his Atlanta home, his mother (away on a trip), and his friends. Other than finding some sort of companionship with the asthmatic neighbor girl Chazz (another non-actor, Toni Lysaith), Flik is a picture of misery. His grandfather throws religion in his face 24/7 – when the kid isn’t sitting in church, he’s put to work doing menial chores, or listening to the get-thee-away-from-me-Satan ravings from both his grandpa and the drunk Deacon Z (Thomas Jefferson Byrd). Lee casts himself in the movie as well, revisiting his Mookie character from 1989’s Do the Right Thing. Not only does he hearken back to Mookie, but he reuses that film’s title in three separate instances, with one character admonishing another. Come on, Mr. Lee … it’s time to move on up from 1989.
The Bible-thumping is so loud that it’s in danger of drowning out the emphatic soundtrack. Filled to overflowing with cliché observations about poverty in the ‘hood, faith, morality, reverse migration, gang bullying, and “kids these days,” Red Hook Summer forgets to tell a story with credible characters. The one-on-one scenes between Bishop Enoch and Chazz’ mother Shirley are beyond deadly, and Flik never changes his expression of flat disinterest which, appropriately enough, mirrors that of the unfortunate filmgoer as he/she rushes for the exits.
Nearing the end of this polemic, Lee (and co-writer James McBride) seem to have remembered that a bit of drama helps to move a story along, and throw in such a ridiculous wrench as to turn the film from mind-numbingly dull to outright ludicrous. Add to that the laugh-out-loud moment when some resident, trying to sum up the community’s problems, ruefully states, “The Hook. It’s Red Hook, baby.” He might as well have said, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Every prolific director is going to have a few career missteps along the way — it practically comes with the territory. But this particular Red Hook territory is such a wasteland that we have to look twice (heaven help us, must we?) to make sure the possessory credit does indeed belong to Lee.
Rating on a scale of 5 instances of preaching to the choir: 0.5
Release Date: August 10, 2012 (ltd.)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee and James McBride
Cast: Clarke Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, Nate Parker, James Ransone, Thomas Jefferson Byrd
Running Time: 121 minutes