J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Red Hook Summer: Bring Your iPad

For the final cut of Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino deleted a scene of Uma Thurman talking to John Travolta through the lens of a camcorder.  It was already too clichéd.  That was nearly twenty years ago.  In his latest film, Spike Lee heavily relies on a similar device, hoping the upgrade to an Apple iPad makes it seem fresher.  Such a strategy perfectly represents the tired blood of Red Hook Summer (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Colleen Royale can hardly stand her father, Enoch Rouse, introduced to viewers as “Da Good Bishop” of the Little Piece of Heaven church, or his old time religion.  Nonetheless, she deposits her anti-social suburban son Flik in her father’s Red Hook housing project apartment for the summer.  Like a little Spike Lee, Flik has a compulsive need to film the world around him, but no faith.  Thus begins a generational cold war, with the minister determined to bring the young cuss to Jesus.

Frankly, Hook’s first two sluggish acts are downright laborious, but grandfather and grandson seem to be building a relationship by meeting each other halfway.  That would be a worthy enough lesson we could all stand to be reminded of again, if the film followed through on it.  Instead, Lee foists one of the laziest, most obvious third act revelations on viewers, completely undermining any good will he might have built up thus far.  Remember Enoch Rouse is a man of the cloth.  Anyone who has seen a Hollywood film in the last twenty years should be able to guess the rest.

Yet, since Hook clearly implies Rouse’s daughter has a good idea what her father’s deep dark secret is, it is absolutely baffling why she would send her son to stay with him unsupervised, with only his annoying sense of entitlement for protection, unless she is just understandably sick of the sullen brat.  No matter, Lee is determined to pull Rouse through the gauntlet, which he does in punishing Grand Guignol style.

To be fair, Clarke Peters does his best to maintain Rouse’s basic humanity, working like his soul depends on it, but Lee stacks the deck against him.  Nonetheless, his performance stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast.  That includes Lee himself, briefly appearing in the guise of Do the Right Thing’s Mr. Mookie, clearly hoping some of viewer’s enthusiasm for his defining film will rub off on this wan return to the County of Kings.

Hook is a bad movie, but it is not the fault of the musicians.  New Orleans’ Jonathan Batiste performs some stirring Hammond B-3 solos and brings some refreshing energy to film when appearing in character as “Da Organist” TK Hazelton.  Likewise, Bruce Hornsby draws on his jazz chops for a pleasing gospel influenced instrumental soundtrack.

Yes, Hook sounds great, but the paucity of originality is honestly depressing.  Perhaps it is time for Lee to follow Woody Allen’s lead and leave their beloved New York to make a psychological thriller with social climbing Londoners.  At least then he would not have the overpowering temptation to fall back on his predictable Spikisms.  Not recommended, Red Hook Summer will disappoint even Lee’s most dogged champions when it opens this Friday (8/10) in New York at the AMC Empire.

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