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“Chi Raq”: Fails! Should have succeeded

CR_D01_001951446574522.0.0

BY HOWARD MCQUITTER II

On the one hand, Spike Lee puts a spotlight on the serious problem in Black America: staggering murders among African Americans, particularly the young, mainly with young black males being both perpetrator and victim the bulk of the time. On the other hand, “Chi Raq,” the title of his most recent film, too often swings wildly into farce. Lee’s film is too schizophrenic to be a good movie which obscures what could have been good maybe if he had stuck to keeping “Chi Raq” a drama.

Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Dolmedes, the “comic” relief, is wasted in farce appearing periodically in the movie at times when the movie should have taken its seriousness in those areas that desperately requires it. Jackson, impeccably dressed in various colored three-piece suits, near the beginning of the movie, in rather sardonic tone, tells the audience: “Welcome to ‘Chi Raq’, land of pain, misery, and strife!”

Lee’s principle actress Teyonan Parris (“Dear White People”)  plays Lysistrata, the name is from an ancient Greek writer Aristophanes in 411 B.C. who performed his comedy when she convinced the women of Greece to withhold sex from the men until they ended the Peloponnesian War. Fast forward to Chicago, circa 2015, Lysistrata, the girlfriend to Spartan gang leader Chi Raq (Nick Cannon), tired of all the killings, especially when Irene’s (Jennifer Hudson) young daughter is killed in an exchange of gunfire between the Spartan gang and the Trojan gang decides to take matters in her own hands. She gathers as many women on the Southside of Chicago as possible forming an informal alliance to withhold all sex from husbands, boyfriends and male associates. The story in itself at this point (and unfortunately through the whole movie) mordant, unrealistic, and patently unfair to the majority of black men who are not involved in the mayhem (and many are fed up and have tried to curtail the nonsense around them). Wesley Snipes plays Cyclops, leader of the Trojans’ gang. Snipes’ character as a gang leader is frankly unconvincing, if not buffoonery, not unlike Jackson’s character.

One of the best performances (there were not many) goes to John Cusack, plays a white Catholic priest, Father Mike Corridan, inspired by the real priest, Father Micheal Pfleger, a long-time activist priest in the Southside and Westside of Chicago. His fiery sermon at St. Sabina at the funeral of Irene’s daughter is quite stirring. I felt my eyes beginning to well-up during his convincing homily. Another strong performance goes to Angela Bassett’s character Miss Helen, an old school woman full of wisdom and experience. (Bassett’s character is similar to the male counterpart Laurence Fishburne’s character Furious Styles in the 1991 movie “Boyz n ‘the Hood”; Bassett is in that movie, too.)

Spike Lee’s “Chi Raq” I looked forward to if for no other reason because it’s been years since he has had a good movie. For the record, this movie fails when it should have succeeded. He creates a hackneyed piece of work again. Running time:118 minutes.

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