Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon
5 (out of 5) Globes
It’s been a decade since we got a real Spike Lee joint — the kind that pisses off the right people; the kind that speaks loudly and bluntly about societal ills that show no sign of abating; the kind that mixes the political with the humane; the kind that actually gets a wide release. “Chi-Raq” is one of those: an angry, boisterous, timely, hilarious, serious, goofy, necessary, personal salvo. Lee has spent the last 10 years struggling to get work out, struggling to get the money for films that can address what’s going wrong. “Chi-Raq” is just that. It’s so up-to-the-minute about our times, especially black-on-black urban gun violence in Chicago, that it has a great diss on Ben Carson.
It’s a satire, and the last time Lee made one of those — 2000’s righteous but flawed “Bamboozled” — he actually opened with the definition of the term. “Chi-Raq” is more sure of itself, even as it has its equivalent of a Greek Chorus (Samuel L. Jackson) announce to us it’s a take on Aristophanes’ Greek play “Lysistrata.” Here, as there, the women of a community engaged in war go on a sex strike. Lysistrata, played with starmaking gusto by “Dear White People”’s Teyonah Parris, is the ladyfriend of a rapper and gang leader (Nick Cannon). Lysistrata’s gotta have it, but she also knows her man might prefer It over engaging in wreckless gunplay with his rival gang lord, played by a never sillier Wesley Snipes in a sparkly red eyepatch.
As Lysistrata rounds up the neighborhood women — and eventually females the worldwide — into her “blue ball movement,” Lee crams the film with equal parts jokes and straight-faced, wallowing pleas for peace. One scene will have dick jokes; the next Jennifer Hudson wailing over her seven-year-old daughter, killed by crossfire. (A scene of her silently scrubbing the blood off the street is suitably galling.) Lee, as commentators never tire of pointing out, is messy, but the jostling between tones — broadly funny, often filthy, then devastatingly serious, then back again — makes sense with this topic. The palpable anger needs the levity of sex jokes, just as the sex jokes are built on a foundation of palpable anger.