Do the Spike thing

Red Hook Summer

All praise the return of Mookie.

All praise the return of Mookie.

Rated 3.0

In Red Hook Summer, director Spike Lee appears again as Mookie, the pizza-delivery man he played in his 1989 manifesto Do the Right Thing. The last time we saw Mookie, he was throwing a trash can through the window of Sal’s Pizzeria where he worked as the escalating protests over the photographs on Sal’s walls boiled up into violence. In Red Hook Summer, it’s 22 years later, and Mookie is still delivering Sal’s pizzas; it’s comforting to know that he and Sal have managed to patch things up.

Comfort, and the lack of it, is a major thread running through the Red Hook section of Brooklyn this summer. We first see the neighborhood as young Silas Royale (Jules Brown), who prefers to go by the name of Flik, arrives to spend the summer with his grandfather, Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters), a local Baptist pastor whose congregation calls him “Bishop.” Flik is just in from Atlanta, where he lives with his widowed mother Colleen (De’Adre Aziza) in what we assume are comfortable circumstances. At least we know they’re comfortable enough that Flik has an iPad 2, which he holds constantly before him like a shield, videoing and filtering his surroundings on their way to his eyes and ears. And comfortable enough that Colleen can afford to fly up from Atlanta, escort Flik to Bishop’s door, then turn around and fly back with barely a word of greeting to her father. Why Colleen brings Flik to Red Hook in the first place—and why she’d rather hang around LaGuardia Airport waiting for her flight home than have so much as a cup of coffee with her father—is a question Lee and co-writer James McBride leave us to answer for ourselves.

Flik finds himself thrust, bemused and diffidently hostile, into Bishop Enoch’s church world, where Jesus is a constant presence, with soulful portraits, crosses, and I-heart-Jesus placards hanging on every wall of his project apartment. Soulful portraits, yes, but it’s white soul, as Flik is quick to notice: If we don’t really know what color Jesus was, then why is Bishop Enoch’s Jesus white?

Dragooned into helping clean up the basement at Bishop Enoch’s Li’l Peace of Heaven Baptist Church, Flik finds comfort of a sort in the company of Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), a girl his own age. It’s a prickly comfort; like many 12-year-olds before him, Flik’s idea of courtship is to brandish a dead rat in Chazz’s wide-eyed face. Still, Chazz takes a bit of a shine to Flik, much the way her mother Sister Sharon (Heather Simms) and Bishop Enoch are discreetly sweet on each other.

Bishop Enoch is most comfortable preaching his Sunday sermons, and it’s in those scenes that Red Hook Summer, and Clarke Peters’ earth-father performance, come most vividly to life. We can sense an ambivalence about these scenes in Spike Lee himself. On the one hand, he seems to regard Bishop’s old-time Southern Baptist evangelism with suspicion, as a relic of the days when it was used by white masters to keep their slaves in their “place”—we suspect that Lee is more than a little simpatico with the contemptuous attitude of Box (Nate Parker), Red Hook’s chief gang-banger. On the other hand, Lee understands and sympathizes with the fervid come-to-Jesus energy of Bishop’s services.

Besides, Spike Lee is probably more comfortable with sermons than he’s willing to admit; certainly Red Hook Summer lapses into them often enough. Peters and Simms work these scenes more smoothly than young Brown and Lysaith, who are often hampered by their awkward, camera-conscious inexperience.

In the last act, Red Hook Summer takes a startling, melodramatic turn that charges in from left field; it may shed light on Flik’s mother’s strained relations with Bishop Enoch, but at the same time, it makes us wonder again why she would send Flik to spend the whole summer with his grandfather.

Like Bishop Enoch’s church services, Red Hook Summer shimmers with unfocused energy. We may scratch our heads at the lack of focus, but it’s the energy we remember.