Tuesday, August 07, 2012
On paper, Red Hook Summer reads like an easy coming-of-age tale. Flik (newcomer Jules Brown), a precocious, spoiled middle-class tween from Atlanta, is dropped off in Red Hook, Brooklyn by his mother (without explanation) to spend the summer with his Baptist preacher grandfather, Enoch (played with gravitas by Clarke Peters), whom he's never met. But the latest joint in Spike Lee's Brooklyn-based oeuvre is anything but simple.
Hampered by a script plagued with plot holes and lengthy drawn out speeches about drugs, AIDS, gentrification, Christian values, class struggles and disillusioned African-Americans in a post-Obama world, Summer comes off as a self-indulgent brainchild---a hodgepodge of ideas, lazily weaved together by one of the most audacious directors of our time.
On one hand, Summer pays homage to the grassroots, guerilla-style filmmaking of Lee's yesteryear. The film was self-financed and shot in three weeks, which is evident by the nominal cinematography. There's even a cameo by the auteur himself as Mookie, the iconic character from Lee's much-beloved 1989 breakthrough, Do The Right Thing. On the other hand---once you get past the inevitable butting of heads between Flik and his grandfather; Flik's introduction to the neighborhood and its colorful cast of characters (Nate Parker shines as a local gang member); and Enoch's incessant push to convert his grandson to a life of God---the plot lulls, leaving audiences waiting for something---anything---to happen. And when something finally does go down---about 90 minutes in---it's a polarizing, out-of-nowhere plot twist that feels like it was plucked from the movie Lee really wanted to make. (The scene in question almost garnered the film a dreaded NC-17 rating.)
Despite its many flaws, which also includes wooden acting and stilted dialogue from Toni Lysaith, who plays Chazz, a sassy asthmatic smitten with Flik, the film does boasts some lovely dramatic moments. Peters ignites the screen with his fiery sermons and Heather Alicia Simms, who plays Chazz's mother, soars in a tangible exchange with Enoch about how serving the lord can sometimes encroach upon the responsibilities of a Black parent, and dictate how they raise their children.
This directionless passion project means well, but lacks a hook---and meanders over a heavy score of organ-driven praise music. Summer, like the plot twist that pops up without any warning (or foreshadowing), should have remained a skeleton in Lee's cinematic closet.