Sundance 2012: 'Red Hook Summer' Does Not 'Do the Right Thing'
by Ethan Anderton
January 22, 2012
Following the premiere of Red Hook Summer, director Spike Lee quite adamantly proclaimed that his first Sundance film is "not a motherf**kin' sequel to Do the Right Thing." Yes, the filmmaker intermittently reprises his role as Mookie, the character from the aforementioned 1989 film. Yes, it has the same colorful palette and visual style in hot Brooklyn. Yes, the story structure is eerily similar and culminates in surprising third act chaos driven this time by religious controversy and wrongs as opposed to racial tension. But despite all those things, Red Hook Summer is somehow not a sequel to Do the Right Thing? No way.
If this isn't a sequel to Do the Right Thing, then the only decent qualities Red Hook Summer has are blatant digs at filmmaker Tyler Perry (the two directors have had unkind words with each other), making the film about as subtle as a brick to the face. A tacky movie poster seen outside a convenience store in Red Hook clearly takes swipes at Tyler Perry's Madea character while the entire film itself uses religion (Perry's backbone for family togetherness and cheesy melodrama and redemption) as a point of contention that is just as loud as Father Enoch, one of the main characters played bombastically by Clarke Peters.
I'm sorry Spike Lee, but there's no denying that this is a sequel, or a slightly modified copy of Do the Right Thing. Instead of mouthy, contrived (though still poignant and well-written) conversations about racial equality at Sal's Pizzeria, you get Peters as Father Enoch preaching loudly, at great length, to his adolescent grandson Flik (Jules Brown), who is mouthy, uninterested in his grandfather and God, but for some reason just can't stop recording his conversations, and the rest of the community of Red Hook with his iPad (giving a reason for citizens to talk into the camera, just like Do the Right Thing). Instead of Rosie Perez yelling at Mookie, you get Tony Lysaith at Chazz running her mouth, but at least being cute and charming while doing so. Sadly, most of the performances feel very amateurish, but not with the same auteur charm that Spike Lee's early work contained.
But no matter how brash all of these characters are, it's the film's soundtrack that's even more invasive, almost as if Lee left his iTunes playing on shuffle while editing the film. The music occasionally, almost out of luck, sets the right mood, but most of the time just makes for awkward dialogue scenes and a composition clash of sound and visuals. A blend of R&B and gospel music does not the perfect soundtrack make, especially when it's piled on top of all this bloated dialogue that would make Kevin Smith blush.
A filmmaker returning to his roots like this should be celebrated and exciting, especially at a venue like Sundnace, but in the case of Red Hook Summer, it's merely a forced attempt at nostalgia, no matter how passionate the endeavor may be. It's heartening to have Lee be so in love with this story and film to make it himself without a studio, but equally disheartening to see that this labor of love is more spiteful than anything, especially with a director who seems desperate to separate his film from the very career launching movie that helped define a generation and a moment in time. Better luck next time.
Ethan's Sundance Rating: 5 out of 10