Red Hook Summer | Movie review
Spike Lee goes back to Brooklyn, forgetting how to make a movie in the process.
With Red Hook Summer, Spike Lee doesn’t just return to his beloved Brooklyn; he also reverts to his micro-indie roots. That may seem like cause for celebration, but here’s the truth, Ruth: In going back to basics, Lee seems to have willfully forgotten what he’s learned about filmmaking over the last 25-plus years. Everything about his new joint feels bush league, from its graceless compositions and flat digital photography to its dialogue, which has the hollow ring of amateur improvisation. No better is the shapeless story, about a sulky, iPad-toting Atlanta teen (wooden Jules Brown) forced to spend his summer vacation in the borough’s Red Hook neighborhood, under the tough-love care of his haranguing preacher grandfather (The Wire’s Clarke Peters, commanding despite the utterly thankless role).
You watch this stilted mess and wonder how it could possibly have been made by the same director who set Bed-Stuy ablaze in the great, timeless Do the Right Thing. Lee actually courts this unflattering comparison, setting his narrative during a sweltering heat wave and even making a couple of cameo appearances as his Right Thing character, Mookie, now in his fifties but still delivering pizzas. Yet the director’s true onscreen surrogate has to be Peters’s lecturing holy man, whose endless sermons on the evils of Twitter, television and rap music sound suspiciously like the cranky complaints of a past-his-prime filmmaker. Red Hook Summer has a whopper of a twist lurking in its final act—one that complicates the movie’s earnest declarations of faith—but to say Lee doesn’t reward your patience is putting it mildly. By the end, you’ll want to hurl a trash can at the screen.