- Running time:
- 121 minutes
- Clarke Peters -
- Jules Brown -
- Toni Lysaith -
- Nate Parker -
- Thomas Jefferson Byrd -
- Deacon Zee
Red Hook Summer (* * stars out of four, R, opens Friday in select cities) has the pace of a long, languid August day — until about 90 minutes in.
Then, this formless drama, anchored by the powerful performance of Clarke Peters, goes from vague and meandering to incendiary.
Set in Brooklyn, director Spike Lee's latest film feels like several intriguing ideas in search of an over-arching story. It's more of a rambling lecture on poverty, family and religion.
Bishop Enoch Rouse (Treme's Peters) is a preacher at Li'l Piece of Heaven Baptist Church. His estranged daughter makes the trip from Atlanta to leave her 13-year-old son Flik (Jules Brown) to stay with him for the summer for reasons that are unclear.
A key revelation about the reverend's character surfaces near the end and raises the question of whether his daughter knew the truth about her father. And if so, why would she leave her son with him?
Questions like these and the film's murky thematic elements undercut the potency of the story. Lee can't seem to decide whether he's telling a coming of age saga, a character study or a larger denunciation of the hypocrisy and manipulation of the seemingly devout.
Lee makes a brief appearance as Mookie, the pizza deliveryman whom he played in 1989's brilliant Do the Right Thing. That exhorting phrase also comes up several times in this film, so Lee is clearly making a link. But nobody seems to do the right thing in this drama.
While Peters is spellbinding in the complicated role of Enoch, Brown's Flik is mostly sullen, which seems apropos for a middle-class teen transplanted against his will and made to clean his grandfather's church. But he's supposed to be impassioned about making documentaries on his iPad, and that doesn't come across in his monotone performance. While Flik underplays his role, his bossy new friend Chazz (Toni Lysaith) overplays hers, and their bond doesn't ring true, hampered by stilted performances. The rest of the cast comes off even less dimensional.
Flippant, non-religious and vegan, Flik, with his privileged Atlanta existence, is worlds away from Enoch's working-class Brooklyn life. His grandfather regards Flik as an example of what's wrong with contemporary youth. The adolescent sees his grandfather as a relic.
"Gentrification has reared its ugly head," Enoch intones from the pulpit about his Brooklyn neighborhood. While his grandfather gives his bombastic sermons, Flik looks like he'd rather be anywhere else.
Red Hook Summer would have been a better movie if it focused more squarely on Enoch and perhaps incorporated more about his troubled relationship with his daughter and added personal historical context. Centering the film on Flik was a tactical error from which Red Hook Summer never quite recovers.
The references to Do the Right Thing, one of the most compelling examinations of racism put on film, only serve as a reminder of what a far more nuanced and vibrant film that was.
Movie theaters and showtimes for Red Hook Summer in Louisville.
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