Red Hook Summer
Spike Lee Directs Disappointing Fish-Out-Of-Water Drama
Flik Royale (Jules Brown) is 13 by the time his mother (De’Adre Aziza) is finally ready to introduce him to his grandfather, Enoch (Clarke Peters). Trouble is the bourgie mamma’s boy was brought up in suburban Atlanta where he’s been raised vegetarian and been attending private school.
So, when his single mom decides the two should get acquainted over the summer, it means the boy will have to live in the projects in Red Hook, an area of New York City teeming with dangers and temptations he hasn’t been exposed to before. Still, she figures he’ll be okay, since her dad, Enoch, happens to be the pastor of the Lil’ Peace Of Heaven Baptist Church.
Flik grudgingly agrees to stay with the Bible-thumping bishop, and their strained relationship supplies the raison d’être of Red Hook Summer. Directed by Spike Lee, the movie might superficially resemble some of his classic films like Do The Right Thing and She’s Gotta Have It, being a character-driven drama set in a sweltering Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, that’s where any similarities start and end. This is a movie that might earn high marks were it the work of a first time director. However, coming from a two-time Oscar-nominee (for 4 Little Girls and Do The Right Thing), it can only be described as a bitter disappointment.
The primary problem is that the acting is mediocre. Secondly, the screen is littered with the sort of buffoonish stereotypes Spike has been criticizing Tyler Perry for, one-dimensional caricatures running the gamut from ghetto gangstas to church ladies. Third, the film fails to generate any palpable tension.
The director makes a cameo appearance as pizza deliveryman Mookie, reprising the role he played as the protagonist of Do The Right Thing. Sadly, that distraction merely serves as a sad reminder of how much Spike’s skills have eroded since his glory days.
Picture a two-hour episode of Amos ‘N’ Andy on crack. Holy mackerel, Sapphire!
Fair (1 star)
Running time: 120 minutes
Changing The Game (DVD)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence, ethnic slurs, drug use and pervasive profanity.
Ghetto Serves As Setting For Coming-Of-Age Saga Of Shakespearean Proportions
Darrell Barnes (Sean Riggs) was dealt a horrible hand as a baby, having been abandoned by his mother after his father was shot dead on the rough streets of North Philly. At least he was lucky enough to be taken in by his paternal grandmother (Irma P. Hall), a Bible-quoting Christian who did her best to insulate the boy from the host of evils permeating their crime-infested neighborhood.
Heeding her admonition to trust in the Lord, Darrell stuck to the straight and narrow as a child. He did his best to keep out of trouble, excelling in school, where he cut a sharp contrast to his best friend, Dre (Dennis L.A. White), a clueless victim of social promotion allowed to slip through the academic cracks at an early age.
So, it’s no surprise that juvenile delinquent Dre would eventually drop out to become a drug kingpin, and rationalize operating such a reprehensible enterprise by liberally quoting misanthropic lines from Machiavelli like, “Kill enemies before they kill you.” Meanwhile, Darrell did good and Grandma Barnes proud by gaining admission to the prestigious Wharton Business School.
In most coming-of-age sagas, the empathetic underdog making his way out of the ghetto would herald a proverbial “happily ever after” ending. But in the more nuanced and multilayered world of Changing The Game, directed by Rel Dowdell, entry into the Ivy League merely signals the start of a new set of challenges to be faced by this naive inner-city refugee.
After graduating, as warned by his wise, rapidly-expiring grandma, Darrell finds himself still tempted by the Devil and having to negotiate his way through a different gauntlet of wickedness. With both Jesus and Machiavelli’s teachings competing for control of his mind, he goes into business with a corrupt classmate (Brandon Ruckdashel) against his better judgment.
The tension builds as Darrell lets greed get the better of him to a point of no return, where it’s gonna take a miracle for the ambitious brother to escape with his soul intact. Touching on a litany of timely themes, this modern morality play of Shakespearean proportions packs an emotional punch while sending a sobering message about what really matters most.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 103 minutes
DVD Extras: Stills gallery.
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening September 7, 2012
Bait 3D (R for profanity, graphic violence and grisly images). Disaster flick about a group of residents of a beachfront community who find themselves surrounded by a swarm of great white sharks after a tsunami leaves them trapped inside a submerged grocery store. Cast includes Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon and Phoebe Tonkin.
The Words (PG-13 for smoking and brief profanity). Blind ambition is the theme of this emotional drama about a best-selling author (Bradley Cooper) who pays a price for achieving literary success by plagiarizing the work of another writer. Ensemble cast includes Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons.
Baby Peggy (Unrated). Bittersweet retrospective chronicling the rise and fall of Diana Serra Cary, now 93, a Silent Era matinee idol who made millions back in the ‘20s as one of Hollywood’s first child stars only to suffer a nervous breakdown after her parents frittered away her entire fortune.
Bachelorette (R for sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity). Raunchy comedy about three members of a clique of mean girls (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan) asked to serve as bridesmaids at the wedding of a former classmate (Rebel Wilson) they used to tease mercilessly back in high school. With James Marsden, Adam Scott and Kyle Bornheimer.
Branded (R for profanity and sexuality). Futuristic sci-fi thriller about one man’s (Ed Stoppard) valiant fight to expose the truth behind a mammoth corporate conspiracy to keep humanity disillusioned, dependent and passive via mind control. With Leelee Sobieski, Jeffrey Tambor and Max Von Sydow.
Brawler (R for profanity, sexuality, drug use and graphic violence). Sibling rivalry saga about a couple of brothers who agree to settle their differences in the ring in a death match at an underground fight club after one (Nathan Grubbs) catches the other (Marc Senter) cheating with his wife (Pell James). Supporting cast includes Michael Bowen, Bryan Batt and Megan Henning.
The Cold Light Of Day (PG-13 for profanity and sexuality). Political potboiler about a San Francisco businessman (Henry Cavill) whose family is abducted while vacationing in Spain by kidnappers demanding he hand over a briefcase he knows nothing about. With Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver and Roschdy Zem. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)
Desperate Endeavors (PG-13 for sexual references). Overcoming-the-odds drama, set in 1973, following an Indian immigrant’s (Ismail Bashey) dogged pursuit of the American Dream in New York City. Featuring Gulshan Grover, Lavrenti Lopes and Deborah Green.
Detropia (Unrated) Dire documentary from Oscar-nominated co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (for Jesus Camp) painting a simultaneously surrealistic and sobering picture of Detroit suggesting that the host of woes visited upon the Motor City might be coming soon to a town near you.
For Ellen (Unrated). Custody drama revolving around an alcoholic, aspiring musician (Paul Dano), locked in a bitter divorce battle, who embarks on a long-distance drive to confront his estranged wife (Margarita Levieva) over his visitation rights regarding their six-year-old daughter (Shaylena Mandigo). With Jon Heder, Jenna Malone and Dakota Johnson.
The Eye Of The Storm (Unrated). Assisted suicide flashback flick, set in Sydney, surrounding the last days of a terminally ill, family matriarch (Charlotte Rampling) determined to die on her own terms rather than face relocation to a nursing home. Featuring Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis and Helen Morse.
Hello, I Must Be Going (R for profanity and sexuality). Romantic dramedy about a depressed divorcee (Melanie Lynskey) who moves in with her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein) in suburban Connecticut where she’s soon revitalized by an affair with an awkward teen (Christopher Abbott) half her age. Support cast includes Julie White, Andrea Bordeaux and Sara Chase.
The Inbetweeners (R for coarse humor, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity, profanity and drug and alcohol abuse). Teensploitation comedy based on the British tv series of the same name examining the rowdy exploits of a quartet of high school grads (Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison and Joe Thomas) vacationing in Crete. With Emily Head, Laura Haddock, Tamla Kari and Jessica Knappett.
Keep The Lights On (Unrated). Homoerotic drama about the tensions which develop between a gay filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) and a lawyer still in the closet (Zachary Booth) when their fling unexpectedly blossoms into love. Ensemble includes Julianne Nicholson, Paprika Steen and Souleymane Sy Savane.
Serving Up Richard (Unrated). Cannibal-themed horror flick about a married couple (Susan Priver and Jude Ciccolella) with a taste for human flesh who get more than they bargained for when they set they start salivating over a guy (Ross McCall) answering their classified ad for a used car. With Brian Burke, Adam Kulbersh and Darby Stanchfield.