Release Date: December 4, 2015
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott
Cast: Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, D.B. Sweeney, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harris, Harry Lennix, Anthony Fitzpatrick, Anya Engel-Adams, Ebony Joy, Erin Allen Kane, Michelle Mitchenor, Felicia Pearson, La La Anthony, Yaneisha Franklin, Prince Eazy, Eric Wilkins
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes
Production Company: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions
Country: USA, English
Director Spike Lee has been around for quite some time now, and his films never seem to get old. You never know what you’re going to get, which alone is a refreshing feeling when choosing your seat at the movie theater. That’s how I always approach his films, and this time it wasn’t any different. With the sensitive subject of gang violence in parts of the African-American community, Spike Lee decides to adapt the Greek play ‘Lysistrata’ tied in with the countless deaths that riddles some sections of Chicago. Whether you’re a fan of his work or not, he always swings for the fence, and is not afraid to be boldly different than other filmmakers that most are used to. Once again he’s able to deliver an entertaining film, with a great message, that provides a good amount of comedy, while at the same time teaching a serious lesson to groups of people that may be involved in their own repeated genocide.
Since I just praised Lee’s previous work, I can imagine in a production meeting how foreign his story-boards may look. I’m personally not thrilled by stage plays or musicals, but with his unique talent, he’s able to take the better of the two, and tone it down to a respectable form of rhythmic dialogue. Even from the opening scene he decides not to provide imagery, but subtitles of a song to carry the film. It was an interesting decision that I found appealing. It painted the picture of how horrifying life could be in some cities in America, and whether true or false, it made me a believer. He was also able to use text messaged images to get his point across, and also showed how the infectious disease of silly pride can kill any man, woman, or child who decides not to be the bigger person when a confrontation arises. The main message he tried to convey is, “What is the purpose of life?” You were brought into this world to do more than kill your fellow man. Fortunately while some may complain that it’s too preachy, I thought the exact opposite taking it in like the best dessert choice. He got his point across through satire and jokes, with some falling flat on their face, while majority received my stamp of approval.
The cast in the film for the most part did an excellent job at telling the story. Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) was the driving force behind the entire film. She was strong, bold, and rocked the hell out of that natural beautiful hair of hers. If she didn’t have enough to carry the film (which she did), the remaining cast had more than enough to lay a strong foundation. Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) had an interesting name choice, whose title alone provided great undertones of some of the ignorance that can corrupt a number of lives. Miss Helen (Angela Bassett) had a strong core, and was the root to the movement from its inception. I’m proud to say that her character's motivation wasn’t remedial, because it would’ve been too easy for her role to fall down that path. Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson) put everything into perspective, ranging from comedy, narration, and addressed multiple issues that literally flood our news feeds in the world today. The most surprising casting choice, and probably the best in the entire film was that of Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack). While at first sticking out like snowflakes in July, he probably had the best line and/or scene in the entire film. If his dialogue didn’t wake you up, I honestly don’t know what will. While the cast just listed was fantastic, the absolute appalling craptastic award goes to Irene (Jennifer Hudson), and Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon). I don’t know what happened with these two. Hudson can act most certainly. Most has seen it before, so maybe she was sick on the day of shooting. Nick Cannon carried the film Drumline, along with a few other small budget films. Though this time his performance was absolutely atrocious, and that’s me putting it lightly. Cannon trying to portray a thugged out gangster was a laughable disaster embarrassment, which could actually ruin his career as an actor. Since that isn’t his main goal, and he’s more of a real life personality, it may not matter in the long run. Though towards the end of the film where the story tried to wrap things up, he single handedly destroyed the scene ERASING all of its weight.
What’s shocking is as horrible as Cannon’s performance was, from a different view it may have improved the films quality. The reason I say this is due to the message that’s been conveyed throughout the film by the director. Not all, but some groups of people are so loyally blind to a street code that they have no clue of the damage they’re doing to their own community. They’re willfully dense to say the least, and you can’t even convince them there’s a fire even when their head is burning. They look utterly ridiculous, stupid, and any other downgrading word that you could come up with. With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Spike Lee told Cannon to act this way, to give a mirror reflection of just how idiotic someone of blind gang affiliation may be. Now I’m definitely not saying all gangs are bad. That word is just a term that’s used to identify a community of people that has each other’s backs, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Though if you can’t recognize that your own actions are as dangerous as drinking gallons of Clorox bleach every day, that is where the problem lies. Spike Lee pulled it off with most of the cast, and with Wesley Snipes character as a prime example. But I’m still on the fence with Cannon’s role, whether it was just horrible acting, or done on purpose to prove a point.
Overall the film is extremely enjoyable with a mixed bag of everything great from a narrative standpoint. I got a decent cast, a head bobbing soundtrack, funny performances, with a powerful message. The message was formed through the idea of stage plays, musicals, modern technology, satire, sex, comedy, real world news, in your face propaganda, and love. There’s not too much more you can ask for. While the execution of it all may not have been perfect, it was more than enough to get the conversation going, if you were not already self-aware. With films like this I can’t wait for the next chapter, to see if anything changes, or to witness Spike Lee’s next great film. It was a fun ride, with an interesting take, and a film that should certainly be on your bucket list.