Friday, August 10, 2012
REVIEW: "Red Hook Summer" is Not That Cold Glass of Lemonade You Ordered
There comes a time when an exceptional director does his "passion project," the film that he's been wanting to make for so long but has been too busy doing good movies to take the time out. For Spike Lee, that film is Red Hook Summer.
Continuing his ode to his beloved New York City burrough of Brooklyn, Lee introduces us to Flik (Jules Brown), a young boy from a middle class family in Atlanta who has been forced by his mother (De'Adre Aziza) to spend the summer in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to stay with his grandfather, who he never met before, in the projects. There seems to be a bigger reason why his mother would send Flik to Brooklyn, but it is never directly explained in the movie, which is one of its many flaws.
Instantly, Flik is bothered by everything about his temporary new home--his bishop grandfather Enoch (Clark Peters), whose constant prayers and preaching conflict with Flik's fiercely irreligious swagger, his daily chores (which includes handing out The Word to the neighbors), and Enoch's no TV or computer rule and unwavering meal menu unsuitable for Flik's vegan appetite. Flik is feeling none of it.
The movie starts off really slow and, without the knowledge of why Flik was sent to his grandfather, often frustrating to watch. While it's clear Brown and Peters are engaging actors, Enoch and Flik are constantly at each other's throats, bickering about their differences. And Enoch never ceases to try to preach The Word to Flik, either directly or indirectly at the pulpit in church. It becomes exasperating to listen to, and that's pretty much three quarters of the movie.
However, things start to take a lighter turn with the addition of Chazz (Toni Lysaith), another neighborhood youngster who befriends Flik. Chazz brings a comedic flair to the movie, but Lysaith's over-dramatization of Chazz becomes annoying and eye roll worthy. The incessant head-rolling and finger-wagging is enough to make you gag. Another actress along the lines of Keke Palmer would have been just fine here.
On the other hand, Peters is quite compelling to watch in his performance, but his character will most certainly be a turnoff for most. How Enoch progresses in the film, and the turn he takes later on, is neither subtle nor well executed. Once the audience gets to that point in the film, they would have just about given up on the whole thing.
It's a real shame because there are some good elements here. As mentioned before, Brown and Peters are both good, and so is Heather Simms (who plays Chazz's mom). The scenes between Peters and Simms are especially good because they seem to explain more about the film in a few minutes than any other scene does. Brown's big screen debut is also an impressive one, but with a tighter screenplay it would have been even better. Same goes for Nate Parker, who plays a thug in the movie and carries the only real glimmer of well developed nuance in the film.
Just like many religion-inspired movies, Red Hook Summer asks more questions than tells us anything, but it leaves the audience alienated and exasperated. The gaping holes in the development of the characters, plus the cheesy and rushed ending weighs the movie down even further. This is not what you'd expect from a filmmaker like Lee (who makes a cameo in the movie as his Do the Right Thing character, Mookie). It comes off embarrassingly amateurish at times, but other times the sentimental moments will captivate you, but only for a moment. Here's hoping Oldboy will be better.