Spike Lee’s ‘Red Hook Summer’ Debuts: Review Roundup

By Kara Warner

20 years after Spike Lee‘s cult classic indie film “Do the Right Thing,” the legendary filmmaker brings us close to a follow up, with “Red Hook Summer,” which hits theaters today.

“Red Hook Summer,” which first premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, revolves around the story of Flik (Jules Brown), a well-off kid from Atlanta who spends a summer with his religious grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters). Grandfather and grandson continually butt heads over their different lifestyles and religion in the summer heat of the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. The film’s 68 percent “Fresh” rating over at Rotten Tomatoes reflects a mixed but appreciative reaction to Lee’s latest work. Read on as we wade through the “Red Hook Summer” reviews!

Plot and Politics
“The new drama, best viewed as a church movie, is a return to the kind of corner-chat indie cinema Lee revolutionized, with an emphasis on a towering performance by ‘The Wire’s Clarke Peters as a local bishop inflamed with the Word. (‘Here’s my gangster!’ he booms, hoisting a Bible.) Into this kindly showboat’s custody arrives a grandson, a surly iPad-addicted teen from Atlanta who prefers to go by Flik (Jules Brown). He’s parked in Red Hook for the season, and although Lee leans too hard on his uneven child performers, there’s a compelling tension between old-timey faith and secular abandonment. Rippling piano arpeggios (the score is by Bruce Hornsby) and keen cutaways to the skyline, the Melo-christened courts and tenement buildings infuse love into a simple plot structure. It can’t last: The movie takes a hard, ruinous turn that will have you doubting the preceding motivations. But isn’t it valuable that Lee refuses to make that gentle church movie we expected? He has to grab the live wire of referendum, go deeper into his Breslinesque outrage. That’s the Lee I treasure; his lunge into the void should be celebrated.” — Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

The Story in The Setting
“The housing project is not the gangster film cliché of a bullet-scarred, trash-and-graffiti-littered battleground, but a reasonably well-maintained complex in which the two groups mostly keep their distance. No gunfire rings out, and although a visitor is warned against straying into gang-controlled territory, the atmosphere is relatively peaceful. Mr. Lee’s decision to concentrate on the churchgoing folks seems a conscious choice to emphasize community solidarity over disintegration. His vision of Red Hook is in some ways the opposite of his vision of another Brooklyn neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, which he portrayed as an ethnic tinderbox in his 1989 film, ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Linking the two movies is the reappearance in ‘Red Hook Summer’ of Mookie (Mr. Lee), the pizza deliverer from the earlier film, still making his rounds all these years later.” — Stephen Holden, The New York Times

The Spike Lee Factor
” ‘Red Hook Summer’ never matches the smoldering hothouse atmosphere of Lee’s ‘Summer of Sam,’ but its narrative shagginess and raging emotions nonetheless drum up franticness and fear. It’s a forceful film whose ungainliness can be vexing. Like Enoch’s boisterous sermons about contemporary trials and tribulations, the film addresses its chosen topics in a fiery but wobbly list-making fashion. And yet in its messy mix of authenticity and awkwardness, bluntness and elegance, the film also proves to be just like its adolescent protagonist: striving, in its own clumsy but earnest way, toward romantic, spiritual, and philosophical maturity.” — Nick Schager, The Village Voice

The Final Word
“There are only a few plot points in ‘Red Hook Summer’ and I’d be a jerk to spoil them here. Like ‘Do The Right Thing’ and ‘Crooklyn,’ this is more of an opera than a traditional film. Indeed, Bishop Enoch’s lengthy, plot-irrelevant, played-straight sermons are like arias. Some might ask “Why hasn’t this been cut?” The answer is: because they are awesome. ‘Jesus has got the greenest lettuce!’ is something I’ll say to myself every time I’m in Fairway for the rest of my life. ‘Red Hook Summer’ is an extremely stylized film. The music always seems too loud, the 4th wall breaks have no pattern and the flatly delivered tick-tock dialogue can be off putting. ‘Feels like a high school play,’ a colleague grumbled. Whatever. It’s a choice, they went for it, it’s a singular vision of a population that is underrepresented on film and you either roll with it or you don’t.” — Jordan Hoffman, About.com