Many have wondered about the validity of Spike Lee’s new movie Chiraq. Now I am the kind of person, for the most part, that gives movies a chance despite what critics and other moviegoers say. And especially since I consider myself to be a pretty level-headed conscious black woman, I made up in my mind that most people downing Chiraq are either haters or only looking at it on the surface. However, after seeing the movie, I realize that what people have to say about it is very true.
I really wanted to like Chiraq. I mean I really, really did. While watching, I found myself reasoning with myself about how the outlandish storyline (yes I know it’s based on a Greek play) had to be done that way because this movie is more than just a film; it’s a piece of art. Ss the move neared the end, reasoning was out the door, and all that stood for me was the facts of what I just saw- Spike Lee may be losing his touch.
It’s really the execution of the movie that makes brings me the most disappointment. There if a fine line between satire and absurdity and Chiraq totes it so much that it’s distracting. The initial idea the movie is based on is promising. I would be lying if I didn’t say the thought of women withholding sex until the men stop killing each other is farfetched but crazy enough to actually work. But in the midst of telling that narrative, the whole thing falls apart and ultimately, the movie loses its way.
The modern day take on the Lysistrata has Nick Cannon, who is definitely on his grown man sexy in the movie, as Chiraq and the beautiful Teyonah Parris as the Greek shero. The struggle and resolution grows after a little girl is killed and no one “saw anything.” Lysistrata is forced to stay with Miss Helen, played by the incomparable Angela Bassett, who schools the girl on the importance of getting the men to stop killing.
From there, Lysistrata enlists the help of Chriaq’s rival’s girlfriend, and the thing escalates to them taking over the armory and barricading themselves inside hanging signs on the building that read, “No peace, No piece.”
Literally, there is just too much to include, and this review is not about the actions of the characters as much as it is about the creative vision that failed to translate over into a cohesive final product.
The thing that lost me during the two-hour long movie is the choice Spike Lee made to go as radical as he did. In the past, he has made some solid, effective films which speak to many of the social and racial issues of the day, and while he clearly sought to do that here, he falls short.
Instead of leaving the theater thinking about ways to continue the conversation the movie has, my focus was more on whether or not Lee has gotten so caught up in his own relativity that he messed up a prime opportunity to make a real impact. And that’s the thing about Spike; he has elevated himself on such a pedestal that any criticism he receives about his work he automatically files in a space in his head that just feeds his movie-making ego. Because, not all “great artists” are received during their time right?
Now please don’t get me wrong here. I am not trying to slam him or negate his cinematic contributions. But when someone has lauded as he is for his creative prowess misses the mark, it has to be said.
Chiraq could have been so much more than it turned out to be. It could have really taken us there, showed us a better way, and then brought us back. Instead, if fed into the propaganda machines raging on all sides. I mean, how can I take a movie seriously where the main characters have a “sex off” in the end to determine which side wins. Our problems and life is so much more complicated than that. And that’s my thing; either a movie is going to be art and speak to a greater cause the entire time or not at all.
There were too many elements that clearly were included for thematic purposes that only subtracted from Chiraq’s appeal. I give it two stars.
Film Review: ‘Chi-Raq’
Reviewed at Rodeo screening room, Beverly Hills, Nov. 20, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 127 MIN.
PRODUCTION: An Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions release of an Amazon Studios presentation of a 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production. Produced by Spike Lee. Executive producers, Jon Kilik, Kevin Willmott.
CREW: Directed by Spike Lee. Screenplay, Kevin Willmott, Lee. Camera (color, widescreen), Matthew Libatique; editors, Ryan Denmark, Hye Mee Na; music, Terence Blanchard; production designer, Alex DiGerlando; art director, David Meyer; set decorator, Cynthia Slagter; costume designer, Ruth E. Carter; sound (Dolby Digital), David Obermeyer; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Philip Stockton; re-recording mixer, Paul Hsu; special effects coordinator, Don Parsons; visual effects supervisor, Randy Balsmeyer; choreographer, Maija Garcia; stunt coordinator, Jeff Ward; line producer, Jason Sokoloff; casting, Kim Coleman.
WITH: Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Steve Harris, Harry Lennix, D.B. Sweeney, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson.