Title: Red Hook Summer
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Clarke Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, Nate Parker, James Ransone and Thomas Jefferson Byrd
This is filmmaker Spike Lee’s first feature since his 2008 release of “Miracle At St. Anna.” Since 2008, Spike Lee has been spending most of his time making documentaries, directing TV shows or putting on his annual tribute to the life of Michael Jackson, “Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson,” a summer block party in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New York. Spike Lee’s new film “Red Hook Summer” feels like an amalgam of all three of these projects in one not-so-digestible fevered dream of religion, youth and gentrification during the summer in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood.
Somewhat a sequel to Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece, “Do The Right Thing,” “Red Hook Summer” is more of a fantastical take on the themes explored in that seminal work. It is almost as if “Red Hook Summer” is a version of “Do The Right Thing” but through the looking glass, as it were. The film follows Flick Roylae (Jules Brown), a 14 year-old boy who is sent to Red Hook, Brooklyn from Atlanta, Georgia by his mother, Colleen (De’Adre Azziza), to spend the summer with his grandfather, Bishop Encoch Rouse (Clarke Peters). What Flick finds in Brooklyn is a closer connection to his family, his faith and a culture clash that pushes him to understand the neighborhood around him. Spike Lee also makes an appearance as Mookie, the character he made famous in “Do The Right Thing,” now 22 years older. The placement of Mookie serves as time changing between decades and as a way to express the importance of work.
“Red Hook Summer” is an interesting take on “Do The Right Thing” but what was so compelling and engaging about that movie is totally left in short shrift in “Red Hook Summer.” Flick is confused about the world around him, which serves as the audiences confusion but when the film shifts to his grandfather’s storyline, the film doesn’t do a good job marrying these two themes and stories. The neighborhood of Red Hook is a fantasy land in Spike Lee’s film. People speak in lofty “street” pros and also speak in long monologues about the economy and the promise of President Obama, but it only serves as a texture and not contextual to the overall narrative.
“Red Hook Summer” is a slowly paced film. At 130 minutes, much of “Red Hook Summer” is dull. There are three sequences in this film involving church sermons, where Lee chooses to show all three sermons in full length. This reminded me of Kevin Smith’s “Red State.” Another film featuring a questionable pastor and complete with over-long church sermons. “Red State” and “Red Hook Summer” would make for a good double feature considering on a thematic level, they both deal with questions of faith and morality from indie filmmakers of the same graduation class. Both films have their share of problems and are more interesting than compelling.
“Red Hook Summer” is an interesting disaster. We see flourishes of the young filmmaker that impressed audiences and critics 20 years ago. But there is far too much slack to make “Red Hook Summer” enjoyable and watchable. Although I consider “Red Hook Summer” a failure, there’s enough here to spark conversation about faith, gentrification and socio-economic placement and plight. This seems to be the start of another phase in Spike Lee’s career, dealing with the themes of some of his most recent works like “Kobe Doin’ Work” or “If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise.” Perhaps Spike Lee is venturing to Abbas Kiarostami-type work rather than more mainstream Hollywood flair.