The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
Chi-Raq (Roadside Attractions)
Directed by Spike Lee
I’m supposed to write a review of this movie, Chi-Raq; the latest from controversial director Spike Lee, but the film is a conundrum wrapped in a dilemma. It is, at the same time, one of the worse movies I have ever seen, and one of the best. A message movie that buries its message in fluff and sex and gender politics and gender preference bias but then shoots the audience point-blank in the face with candy colored bullets and powerful speeches. Chi-Raq is a musical in the tradition of Les Miserable. Based on Lysistrata by Aristophanes. But a musical where the characters rap instead of sing. It is an epic poem like a Shakespearean comedy complete with Samuel L. Jackson as chorus and outrageous situations punctuated by rhyming couplets and theatrical staging. It is… the strangest fucking thing I’ve seen in a long time.
Chi-Raq is a movie about gun violence. The violence in Chicago is so bad more people died there than in our two wars during the same time period combined. Chi-Raq is a movie about living in a war zone. The war zone that is Chicago, where corporations pour in guns and drugs and take away jobs and hope. Chi-Raq is a movie about race politics. About the political environment in Chicago, where money for jails takes away from the education budget. Where the schools are falling apart but the prisons are state of the art.
Chi-Raq is a silly little musical about the women in a fictional city denying their men sex until they make peace with each other. Chi-Raq is an infantile fantasy that presupposes that all men are straight and all straight men are idiots. Chi-Raq is an overly cartoonish look at a serious subject that is literally killing people by the thousands. And its simple-ass backward & basic solution is to deny the men sex. It is insulting to both genders as the female characters chant, “No peace! No pussy!” with comical sincerity.
Chi-Raq is an ambitious operatic tale of epic proportions that reminds me of the productions of Mozart or Verdi and I’ve already compared it to Shakespeare. And please, I do not take the many names of god in vain here. It is a monumental work of art beyond my petty understanding of cinema and theater. It is the Marriage of Figaro. It is the Taming of the Shrew. It is the best thing that Spike Lee has done in a very long while.
Chi-Raq is stupid. I had to resist the urge to throw up in my mouth while watching it. I wanted to apologize to every woman I’ve ever known for its portrayal of women as sex objects. And it’s usage of sex as currency. I’ve never been so angry at a movie as it squeezed homophobic sentiment between its sexist themes and finished it off by referring to bisexuals as “on the down low.” There isn’t a gender or gender preference that isn’t insulted by this syrupy sweet dollop of shit. Spike Lee as misogynist. Spike Lee as Homophobe. Spike Lee as spineless coward. Because yes a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down but it also dilutes its effectiveness. You might as well just have a piece of candy and wait for the sickness to kill you.
The acting and performances in Chi-Raq are not as important as the lyrics, the dialogue, the theme, the story. They are excellent. But then John Cusack enters, in one of the most powerful scenes of the movie, and just burns down the production, the screen, the scenery, just about everything, drops the mic and walks away. This happens early on and it is a fantastic performance. The rest of the cast is fine to excellent. Although Wesley Snipes is a little over the top. And the lead woman is overly sexualized even in a movie about sex. But the performances are like any classic adaptation, some Hollywood actors can emote through the flowery language to find the powerful drama and some simply can not. But all are good and some are amazing.
Chi-Raq can best be described as a pendulum swinging back and forth from important work of art to exploitative claptrap. From epic, classic, timeless tale of the war between the sexes to what the hell was that, this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen and an absolutely horrible way to highlight an ongoing problem in society. From Chi-Raq is a must-see cinematic experiment that will elicit a strong response from all sides of the argument to Chi-Raq is a piece of cinematic fluff that hides an important problem behind the adolescent sex fantasies of a film-maker who is seemingly just an adult baby with a camera and a desire to smash expectations. But it’s good. No seriously. Chi-Raq is good.
So anyway. That’s my Chi-Raq review. I hope you liked it.