Friday, December 18, 2015
Provocatively using Aristophanes' ever-timely 2,426-year-old play Lysistrata as a way to address the ongoing plague of shootings on the South Side of Chicago, Spike Lee serves up an odd gumbo teeming with political activism, broad melodrama, verse dialogue, rap music, history lessons, comedic caricature, moral guidance and steamy sex (later withheld) in Chi-Raq.
Even if the now-veteran director lays everything on a bit thick, repeatedly makes many of the same points and lets things go on too long, he's still found a lively and legitimate way to tackle an urgent subject matter that other filmmakers have found excuses to avoid. This is the first feature film out of the gate for the nascent Amazon Studios, which seems at least initially dedicated to working with interesting directors on projects the studios may not be inclined to take on. Far more people will end up seeing the film once it's available at home, but initial theatrical runs in major urban markets beginning December 4 will effectively establish its public profile.
As far as big screen features go, in the decade since his last big commercial success with Inside Man, Lee has stumbled with several unlikely and/or ill-advised projects, from Miracle of St Anna and Red Rock Summer to Old Boy and last year's Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, none widely seen. The least you can say about Chi-Raq, a title at which Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken offense, and too bad for him, is that it vaults Lee back into a position of cultural/political relevance similar to that which he held a generation ago, just as it sees him making some bold creative moves, especially with the dialogue, that are pretty fresh.