CHI-RAQ (2015)


Directed By: Spike Lee
Written By: Spike Lee & Kevin Wilmott
Based On The Play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes
Cinematography By: Matthew Libatique
Editor: Ryan Denmark & Hye Mee Na
Musical Score: Terence Blanchard 

Cast: Teyonah Parris, Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Nick Cannon, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, D.B. Sweeney, Jennifer Hudson, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Anthony Chisolm, Irma P. Hall, Lala Anthony, Felicia Pearson, Isiah Witlock Jr., Dave Chappelle, Roger Guenveur Smith, David Patrick Kelly , Anya Engel-Adams

After the murder of a child by a stray bullet, a group of women led by Lysistrata organize against the on-going violence in Chicago’s Southside creating a movement that challenges the nature of race, sex and violence in America and around the world. This is the first original film is released by Amazon Studios.

This is Spike Lee’s attempt to make a film like he used to do. One that takes a narrative and also tries to make it about social issues. Those in particular that are going done in African-American and minority communities and with this film I give him an A for effort, but unfortunately the film is a mess. Albeit an earnest one.

The thing about this film that comes shining through is the style above all else. Which just because it’s tackling a subject and doing it in a different way. Doesn’t make the film necessarily good. Different or Special, but not good.

This is an updated take on the classic Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes. all the characters speak in rhyme for the most part. It is also a comedy. While the film involves the trouble of gun violence in Chicago. It focuses it’s attention on two warring gangs.

Pronounced “shy-RACK”, the title is a portmanteau of “Iraq” and “Chicago”, used by South Side Chicago residents to refer to the area comparing it to a war zone due to its high crime rates. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel didn’t like the title and asked Spike Lee to change it, thinking it would hurt the city’s image.

While the film is obviously a satire. It is also a little to on the nose when it comes to the characters dialogue. There is no beating around the bush they get right to the point, but the film is still too long.

The more unorthodox elements of the satire create surreal scenes the only problem is that when the film wants to go for drama and emotion. It feels empty or performed. And lacks the impact they seem to wish they had. Not entirely fake, but it feels false or on a wrong note.

It’s that the tone is so wide, that throws it off. As you can be haphazard in tone at times and still have it work. While still having a main point or subject. Though it is tougher to take seriously when it feels all over the place and kind of abstract.

He makes you feel the men’s pain as the cast is rather attractive and half the time half dressed. This includes characters of all legal ages and sizes. Though at times the film is more sexual then it needs to be. Then again that might be the right way to do it to show how much a necessity it is for the men and how big a role it plays in their day to day lives. Even if at times for a woman’s story the film feels more misogynistic.

There is a lot to admire and even enjoy about the film. It is very ambitious and two scenes really standout the strip club scene with Dave Chappelle is hilarious (in his first acting role in 13 years, His last film role was UNDERCOVER BROTHER in which he was a scene stealer) and the musical scene where the ladies and the soldiers end up singing and dancing to chi-lites classic, oh girl.

One of the problems is miscasting Nick cannon does what he can in the lead role, but he feels either too over the top or just wrong. As his character makes no sense half of the time and when he reveals a tender moment from his past. It is after a frankly graphic sex scene. Plus the flashback involves even more sex. So that any point cannons character is trying to make about his father is lost in the graphic visuals. Even if that is the subject to have him talk and reveal things emotionally about himself and his father.

Plus the whole point of his stance when it comes to the truce is that he doesn’t want to admit his guilt in a crime. Even though it seems not only him but other characters have done equal or worse. Yet he is the only one who seems to pay for his sins.

D.B Sweeney also seems miscast as his role as the mayor of Chicago makes him seem less like a real powerful character and more a comedic wimp characterization who feels out of place. Just like David Patrick Kelly as the general of the armory who seems more to be a comedic representation of a subject and type rather than a full blooded character.

It’s nice to see some actors and character actors from Spike Lee’s past make appearances. Even Wesley Snipes whose character comes across as more comedic then menacing. Even John Cusack as a new actor to the Spike Lee universe makes his presence felt and feels more a natural fit and gives a performance that feels more heartfelt then the ones he has played in a while.

While the film is playful, it also seems to have the same problem Spike Lee has had as of late he film feels overstuffed with subjects and ideas. That take precedence and also leaves out certain other subjects that would have seemed to apply more naturally with the subject. While they do bring up the police. Their involvement seems more minor as it is what is expected and probably because spike Lee usually tackles that subject time to time in his films.

So that so many scenes seem more like in jokes that could have easily been cut. Though seems to amuse him. Let’s him use actors he enjoys and tips the scales towards more comedy or darkly comedic scenes. For instance using actor Isiah Whitlock Jr., in a scene just to invoke his usual call of shhhhhhiiiiiiiittttttt for an elongated time. Though here goes for the stratosphere and for no particular reason. Or the scene with Roger Guenveur Smith as an insurance salesman that comes late into the film and feel offbeat. That could have easily been used earlier to greater effect. That when it is used feels like a reminder of the films main theme. Though also feels cruel and out of place. Just more overkill. As he film does seem to get lost time to time.

Though then again bringing in scenes of characters who started violence then became victims themselves and the effects it has had on them are strong and powerful.

Samuel L. Jackson as out host and narrator is fun and helps keep us informed. Even if he isn’t necessarily needed.

I think wisely the film tackles gun violence and gender roles. As well as sexual roles in relationships and in the bedroom. Even though it is supposed to be more of a woman’s tale. The film can get raunchy and feel more misogynistic then it should.

I really wanted to love the film, but it seems just when it would find it’s rhythm and get back on track. It would run off the track again. Always disturbing it’s momentum. So that there was none really.

As always when it comes to the films of spike lee. There is a vitality and the films feel alive. Unfortunately though he has many ideas and the talent to showcase them. Spike Lee feels a bit like Oliver stone. Not only at times a slave to his interests and passions. But is beginning to have a hit or miss record. When they are good they are really good, but when bad not only bad but noteworthy bad. Though Usually can find an interesting aspect in the films.

I believe we notice his because we have seen these filmmakers in particular lee make classics before. As well as be outspoken in interviews. So the fact when they make films it is enough to take notice and seek the films out. Figuring there will be something of interest, but these days. The films are so haphazard they feel like maybe he lost a bit of control. This film might have been more a better effort. If it had been more focused. An smaller film. As it has enough of the dressings and undressings, but it also makes it feel too far reaching and not having much to say or show. For it or it’s subjects.

Though I will applause spike lee for at least making a film about the subject and opening the audiences eyes to it and the facts. Tackling something that others seem to know and acknowledge, but seem to shy away from.

The mixing it with the story of Lysistrata is inspired, it is also entertaining and ambitious, but for an audience not willing to take the challenge. Might misread the film as more a suggestion to end violence. Rather then a satire of how ridiculous the idea might be. The reasons aren’t and why more people should take a stand. Or at least pay attention rather then just write the film and therefore the subject off as stupid or juvenile.

Not to mention the film is simplistic in it’s own way and definitely sexist while trying to make a point about what will hurt men. the women throughout the film are insulted, talked down to and even though being rebelious for a cause. they are still mostly shown as sex objects or objectified by the camera. So while the films heart is in the right place. it seems more interested at times in it’s own kinky asides or at least trying to seduce the audience a bit.

For all of this films actions. It feels the most in common with BAMBOOZLED which even if that film had it’s problems. It felt stronger and stayed on point. Even if overstuffed itself.

Spike lee isn’t quite the angry young passionate filmmaker when it comes to subjects. Where he had a strong opinion and didn’t mind upsetting the audience. Here he seems to be more fair minded and give each character a point of view and not exactly calling them wrong. Which is something that sometimes comes with age. You tend to look at things with a general overview. Though at least he hasn’t lost his talent.

Grade: B-

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