Summer of Sam, 1999. Directed by Spike Lee. John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrian Brody, Jennifer Esposito, Ben Gazzara,

Watching Spike Lee ape Martin Scorsese should be funnier than it is. This examination of the hothouse of paranoia amongst New Yawk Eye-talian Americans during the summer shooting spree by David Berkowitz in1977 seems like exactly the sort of thing that Scorsese would be a natural for. Spike Lee, on the other hand, is a horse of an entirely different color. Rarely has a director been so visibly out of touch with his material. He tries to shoehorn his characters into a disguised parable for racism--substitute punk rock for blackness here. Oh, the formal elements of film are there, I suppose, although I think Lee is trying just a bit too hard. But the characters never convince. Not even once. Part of this is because they are universally unpleasant characters to start with. Not one of them seems to lead a normal family life. Not one of them speaks a line that doesn't sound like it was inspired by Mean Streets or Goodfellas. The scenes where the cops attempt to enlist the mob in their hunt for the Son of Sam are so stiff and so ripe with cliches that I find it hard to view them as anything more than unintentional parody. Lee compounds these faults by demonstrating an ignorance of the milieu he is dealing with through his choice of music. His grasp of disco is not too far off the mark, I suppose, but his grasp of punk is laughable--made more so because it forms an important plot element. The worst part about watching this movie struggle in vain against its ambitions, though, is that it is two and a half hours long and could have accomplished everything it sets out to do at ninety minutes (assuming that it's other problems could be resolved). The art of film editing may very well be lost forever.....

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