Just when you think you understand where the plot is going, Lee – who should get an award for the plot twist of the year – throws the audience a curveball that sweeps the movie in an entirely different direction. The minimal advance buzz that preceded the film probably includes this ultimately polarizing plot twist. Without revealing exactly what that is, it’s fair to say its likely to generate sizable controversy. In truth, the subject matter – though resonant and topical – should have been covered in its own movie.
Fairly or not, Red Hook Summer suggests that Spike Lee’s star may be on the wane. In one public appearance tied to the movie’s release, Lee was asked whether, given his track record, he found that Hollywood was resistant to making his films. He responded that he “always knew [Red Hook Summer] had to be done outside the Hollywood system,” and that it would have been a “waste of time to get the studios to finance this film.”
It’s a truism that Spike has fashioned his career in a way that make him the Woody Allen of black cinema. Yet with Red Hook Summer the director has – perhaps unwittingly, perhaps by design – suggests he has more in common cinematically with Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar.
Spoiler etiquette prevents me from revealing exactly which Almodovar film “Red Hook Summer” recalls. Still, anyone who’s ever watched an Almodovar production recognizes the hallmark of ensnaring viewers with its misleadingly lighthearted narrative, snappy dialogue and funny characters. All that eventually gives way to an abrupt, bathetic sucker-punch that pushes the narrative in a decidedly darker, more somber direction. And like several Spike Lee movies, Almodovar’s plots contain a deep undercurrent of religious skepticism . The depiction of churchgoing folks, and the situations in which they find themselves, speak to the hostility of someone who may have lost faith himself.
Perhaps independent was the best route for Lee to travel. Yet given the evidence, it’s hard to argue that Hollywood would not have embraced a quality black movie. The indie film Jumping the Broom, with its stellar black cast, was far better produced (and more critically-acclaimed), and the Tyler Perry juggernaut rolls on unimpeded, even if it has hit a few speed bumps. In light of these factors, Red Hook Summer deserved a better fate than a cast of middling actors and a shoestring budget.