Starring Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harris
Besides the whopping amount of talent in the latest Spike Lee Joint (is he still calling his films that?), there is also a healthy dose of good intention. Spike Lee is a true artist, he doesn’t follow any particular path, he doesn’t play the marketing or Hollywood game, in fact he never has. Lee has been a controversial outsider for as long as I have been writing reviews. Arguably the last great film the Oscar nominated writer/director produced was “Inside Man”, a film without politics or agenda, just good ole fashion entertainment. Lee doesn’t seem to be interested in that, thus his latest “Chi-Raq” which depicts a gun addicted city formerly called Chicago.
The poor neighborhoods refer to Chicago, one of America’s most violent cities, as Chi-Raq because more people have died from gun violence in the United States third largest city than US Troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. There are two gangs that plague Chicago causing most of the violence, Spartans and Trojans. The leader of Spartans wears the purple colors calling himself Chi-Raq (Cannon), as if he controls the entire city. Age old beef with Cyclops (Snipes), the leader of Trojans wearing orange, has caused the death of a young child in the street. No one will come forward with information on who is responsible so the women of both gangs and all over the state decide to withhold sex from the men to get peace.
Feels more like an experiment than a feature film.
Lee has adapted the Modern Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes to fit modern day Illinois and used current events (mostly the high profile deaths of young black teenagers) to drive home his point. Each character (except for Cusack sermon at the child’s funeral) is spoken in rhyme or rap. “From third rate school to high class incarcerations”, Father Mike Corridan (Cusack) preaches about how the system works against the poor. “Guns have become part of America’s wardrobe”. Lee takes aim specifically at gun violence, the NRA, police brutality, media abuse, rap music, and even more get the filmmakers finger.
“Chi-Raq” feels more like an experiment than a feature film, an adaptation of a stage play more than a movie. Its high production value display’s the seriousness of the filmmaker and talent involved. The message is often cut down when we have a mother crying for her murdered daughter and in the next scene men shouting male hood mantras. The film sends a mixed message, even worse it preaches to the choir of people already concerned with the issues it contains, providing nothing a mainstream audience might be interested in. Lee once again delivers a film packaged in such a way only a specific crowd will see it.
The important premise and urgent message is peppered with so much stupidity it’s reach is short.