Spike Lee's films are often honest and artful, but rarely at the same time. This usually results in movies that have colliding tones and atmospheres -- the serious and the comic, the theatrical and the dogmatic. In that regard, his films are more like Kevin Smith's than Quentin Tarantino, with whom he has been compared. All three are auteurs, though Smith's work tends to be more purely satiric, not as political, than the others.Tarantino's more violent and less intimate.
Lee's best ideas and images are inspired by the lunacy he finds in governmental corruption and political perfidy and in the conflicts that arise among the races and between the sexes. Confict is at the core of his latest film, Chi-Raq, the name given to inner city Chicago where gang wars have torn communities apart and have been especially deadly for children, innocent bystanders killed by stray bullets fired by bangers who, frankly, couldn't care less. Warring chief bangers, Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) and Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), spew bullets and rhyming invectives as those around them scurry for cover and the unlucky are laid to waste. When the daughter of a young mother (Jennifer Hudson) is killed, the community, led by a firy Catholic priest (John Cusack) will not be stilled and the molls of the beefing thugs borrow an idea from Greek playwright Aristophenes and agree to withhold sex until guns are surrendered and peace is declared.
The head of the women's movement, Lysistrata (the captivating Teyonah Parris) orders a take-no-prisoners posture, commandeers the National Guard Armory with nothing more than a winsome smile and a thong, and faces down every male opponent from horny husbands to befuddled city police. Her "No Peace / No Pussy" campaign sparks an international "withholding" movement and, in pretty short order, shit gets real.
When Lee is not painting scenes and characters with the broadest of strokes or staging rousing dance numbers, he's preaching, not altogether effectively but certainly fervently, to stop the violence. He and co-screenwriter Kevin Willmott (CSA:Confederate States of America) merge their polemics with poetics, in keeping with the classics model, and cast Samuel L. Jackson as big pimping narrator Dolmedes. (South Cackalackey makes it into the film, quite explicitly, with reference to the Emanuel 9 and Dylann Roof.)
Chi-Raq is a generally entertaining mishmash of ideas but, frankly, most of Lee's films are. If one understands that, and knows, further, that the film will both delight and frustrate then the moviegoer will not be disappointed. Recommended.


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