What was Spike Lee thinking? I asked myself this question at least half a dozen times as I endured the endearing filmmaker’s latest flick, Red Hook Summer. The premise for the story was loaded with potential.
Flik Royale (Jules Brown) is a young black adolescent from Atlanta’s middle class who is inexplicably plopped into a New York housing project to spend the summer with his ultra-religious grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters), a man he is meeting for the first time. It goes downhill from there.
DON’T SAY, SHOW
Lee couldn’t decide whether he was presenting a statement on the disempowering role of religion in black America’s lower-income communities or a coming-of-age piece about Flik. Attempting to combine the two resulted in a boring, lazily told and horribly directed tale from the same filmmaker who brought us the classics Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Crooklyn.
Proving that it’s extremely difficult to make a good movie from a bad script, Lee broke some pretty basic screenwriting rules that could not be redeemed on the set. Telling the story through seemingly unending dialogue, instead of showing it through well-directed scenes, contributed to the movie’s boredom factor.
And because the buck ultimately stops with the director, what was Spike Lee thinking when he approved the casting of the one-dimensional, articulate, but stiff-as-a board Brown? Flik’s static demeanor made it difficult to discern that he was experiencing the culture shock that the movie’s synopsis described.
A lack of depth in characters was spread throughout Red Hook, including Lee’s attempt at cheap laughs with an over-the-top church organist.
As far as acting goes, Peters clearly has the chops. It’s just a shame that he could not demonstrate his talent in a better movie. Peters nailed his character’s complex religiosity. That the good Bishop is “deeply religious” is apparent only because of his hollow declarations to his grandson to turn his life over to God and the conspicuous images of Jesus plastered all over his small apartment and equally tiny Li'l Piece of Heaven Baptist Church. The reason for the Bishop’s unpersuasive religious conviction is revealed in the movie’s climax; a supposedly explosive scene that was so clumsily depicted that it begged the question, what was Spike Lee thinking?
DID MOM KNOW?
Another unanswered question that surfaced following the climax was whether Flik’s mother knew who she was sending her son to, and if she did, what was she thinking?
One of Red Hook’s biggest blunders came in Lee’s failure to coax a believable performance from Toni Lysaith as Flik’s young crush, Chazz Morningstar, who delivered her lines as though she read them from a teleprompter. Throw in the complete absence of chemistry between Chazz and Flik and the movie’s two-hour timeframe becomes 120 minutes of cinematic torture.
Had Red Hook Summer been the work of a filmmaking newbie still learning his craft, the glaring defects could be forgiven. Coming from a seasoned filmmaker with more than 20 years of experience under his belt makes it a major disappointment.
Renee Michelle-Hollinger may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Pictured above is Spike Lee