Red Hook Summer opens Friday at The Belcourt.
Subtlety, thematic cohesion and storytelling pace have never been Spike Lee's strong suits. Things are no different with Red Hook Summer, his latest ode to Brooklyn. Modest in resources but epic in scope and ideas, Lee's new movie addresses so many topics that it seems to cartwheel from subject to subject. Whether via photos or vignettes, the movie delivers a barrage broad enough to encompass brief codas, fiery speeches, comic interludes and bitterly dismissive rants. If its effect is sometimes wearying, it's also often electrifying.
The main plot highlights a summer where the young black protagonist (Jules Brown) faces troubling truths. Most notable of these is that he doesn't understand or appreciate his heritage or family roots. Though his full name is Silas Royale, everyone calls him Flik. Flik is Lee's personification of a soulless 21st century black kid: over-reliant on his iPad, fearful of it being stolen, dismissive of anything that doesn't reflect the private-school environment where he's being "educated." A nightmare scenario, for Flik, is spending time around people outside his comfort zone.
But that's what happens when his mother decides to send him to Brooklyn's Red Hook district for the summer. Adding to his discomfort is that he'll be under the jurisdiction of his uncle, the flamboyant Bishop Enoch Rose (an exceptional performance by Clarke Peters), a Bible-quoting fundamentalist type whose perfect world would be a theocracy.