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IN SHORT: Spike Lee's lightning did not strike twice . [Rated R for Brief Violence, Language and a Disturbing Situation. Not Rated. 130 minutes]
It has been a while since Spike Lee has taken his rightful place in the director's chair and, just as in the early days, he shot Red Hook Summer in virtually no time on virtually no budget and, we guess, with a lot of hope that his newfound young actors can carry the weight of the film on their still growing shoulders. That plus a scattering of technical errors that we should not be seeing in a film made by as capable a film maker as Lee disappoints us greatly.
Venturing up from their suburban Atlanta home in the Deep South to the urban wilds of Brooklyn NY, the assumedly lovely "mom" (De'Adre Aziza) dumps her son "Flik" Royale (Jules Brown) at her father's doorstep for the summer. Daddy-kins knows the devil has come to, uh, Brooklyn. True, Mom and her dad are not exactly on speaking terms. He had no idea he had a grandchild and, as Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clark Peters), a community leader and leader of the Lil' Peace Of Heaven Baptist Church Of Red Hook, must introduce the boy to his congregation and keep him away from gangs of Bloods who maintain an uneasy demarcation zone that protects the church.
Flik is a suburban kid from Atlanta. Even the largest apartments in his new crib are maybe a quarter of the size of what he is accustomed to. Flik stomps around, the typical complaining teen, glued to his iTablet. He's either watching stuff or recording stuff for a documentary he says he intends to make about his summer. Flashing an expensive device in a poor neighborhood is not a great idea and Flik doesn't exactly listen to anything his grandfather says or warns so you know something is coming down the pike. Flik does make one friend that summer, the daughter of his grandfather's sorta-kinda girl friend, one Chazz Morningstar (Tori Lysaith).
Even as the awkward relationship develops, awkwardly, the two characters don't generate enough chemistry to help make it work. They may look the appropriate age (we guess around 12) but neither has the acting chops to deal with events that go down, especially the stranger in a strange place suburbanite in the ghetto. Grandad's second in command, the usually drunkard Deacon Zee (Thomas Jefferson Byrd) tries to cover for the kid's misdeeds, (stealing chips and soda from stores set aside to sell after Sunday services). as best he can, but when the pair cross the aforementioned line of demarcation, the only moment of tension rises in the film.
It is almost as if Spike Lee had a great idea of how to finish off his film, and then left the first two thirds sketched out for his crew of actors to figure out. Sure there is the bonding process -- a breakthrough achieved when grandpa offers Flik a chance to go kayaking off the Brooklyn shore. Yes, there is Grandpa's never ending and just about always failing insistence that Flik come to Jesus. Once Flik makes the commitment, dontcha know it, a stranger shows up pointing fingers at the pulpit..
Seemingly drunk and definitely making accusations against Da Good Bishop regarding events that occurred in the time before he fled his home preaching lands in the Deep South. Things start to go terribly wrong. Every viewer will try to figure it out before the reveal; we're no different than you are. We guessed wrong, so props to writers Lee and James McBride for building strong enough characters that we looked the wrong way.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Red Hook Summer, he would have paid . . .
Now for a bit of clarification. Cranky is white. Cranky has never had problems with any of Spike Lee's films in the past and really has little to get overly enthusiastic or down right mean about Red Hook Summer. Halfway through watching the film, though, a little voice started going off in the back of my head. One that had never been there before. It kept saying "This film is not made for you to be watching. Spike is speaking to his people."
I'd rather not believe that voice. Spike has always managed to get a message across the color line. Whether or not I liked it has nothing to do with this film. Red Hook Summer is a slapped together improv and those belong in grad school.
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