The director’s “Chi-Raq,” hitting theaters this weekend before its planned Amazon Prime debut, overdoses on liberal talking points. It’s a battle cry against the black-on-black bloodshed roiling Chicago, an American tragedy conveniently overlooked by liberals in favor or more “politically convenient” tragedies.
Good for Lee for daring to broach the subject in the first place. If only he weren’t packing little more than stale attacks and overheated rhetoric. Long story short? It’s the racist, bigoted country’s fault that Chicago is awash in violence. There’s more finger pointing here than at a Super Bowl loser’s press conference. Lee’s finger, alas, doesn’t point at any of the following:
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. President Barack Obama. Democrats. The disintegration of the nuclear family. Absent fathers. Misogynistic rap music. Chicago’s ultra-strict gun laws.
Get the picture?
Young Lysistrata (“Mad Men’s” Teyonah Parris) is fed up with her boyfriend’s thug life. So, inspired by a Liberian activist who achieved peace through a celibacy movement, Lysistrata decides to do the same. She tells her man (Nick Cannon) they won’t be making love again until the guns are put away for good.
It won’t be easy convincing women to give up sex, but they quickly learn how well it gets their partners’ attention. Will it be enough to bring real change, or will the pop-pop-pop of gunfire rob more precious lives from their community?
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Lee leverages some of his better filmmaking tics to enliven “Chi-Raq.” The concept itself, an update on Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” is inspired. His knack for giving lesser-known stars meaty roles continues. Parris’ character could stop a bullet with one mesmerizing stare.
The same Lee who gives great sound bites can’t control his political impulses. Calling “Chi-Raq” heavy handed is likely accusing Donald Trump of being self-absorbed. The film pummels us with so many scenes of mourning residents pacifists might take up arms just to make it stop.
The movie paints the U.S Military as racist, courtesy of an old-timer seduced by Lysistrata, right down to his Confederate flag boxer shorts.
Worst of all, “Chi-raq” is a political satire with nary a laugh. How many times can you trot out euphemisms for private parts in one film? Step right up and see for yourselves.
The movie will be hopelessly dated in roughly two years, maybe less, thanks to a ripped from yesterday’s headlines tone. The screenplay skewers Dr. Ben Carson, a true American success story, honors the Black Lives Matter movement and offers shout outs to Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
The police aren’t left out of Lee’s broadside on America. “You kill us with impunity,” one character tells the cops. Later, a scene equates a gun-toting gang banger with a police officer.
That might be too far for even Quentin Tarantino.
John Cusack, who is growing less interesting with every film choice, plays a priest who delivers one of Lee’s patented monologues mid-film. It’s a maniacal rant targeting an economy that “abandoned the poor” (where’s Obama in this scenario?). The priest is just warming, though
“Mass incarcerations are the new Jim Crow” … “Politicians are in the pocket of the NRA” … “It’s easier to get a gun than a computer.”
Later, Father Cusack calls Chi-Raq’s crime wave “self-inflicted genocide.” Well, which is it?
“Chi-raq” still offers some classic Lee touches, the kind that once promised a career of consequence. Samuel L. Jackson serves as the film’s flamboyant narrator, turning the film’s ornate dialogue into smooth bons mots. The few musical numbers crackle with energy and purpose. And, unlike the amateurish “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” Lee’s last “joint,” “Chi-Raq” isn’t boring.
DID YOU KNOW: Teyonah Parris talked to her grandmother, who worked as a secretary in an all-white office during the 1960s, to prep for her role in AMC’s “Mad Men.”
The film’s bloated running time suggests an edit or four is in order. There might even be a salvageable story here, given some precise pruning. The film’s final moments are undeniably powerful, at least until the big solutions get their closeup.
Spoiler alert! Bigger government! Guaranteed jobs! We didn’t need a clumsily assembled movie to tell us that. We could always turn in to Rachel Maddow and co. without leaving our couch.