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Originally published Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 10:06 PM

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'Red Hook Summer': Spike Lee's tale of a struggling neighborhood

A movie review of Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer," a celebration of African-American resilience in a struggling New York neighborhood that envisions two cultures coexisting uneasily in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

The New York Times

Movie review

'Red Hook Summer,' with Clarke Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, De'Adre Aziza, Spike Lee. Directed by Lee, from a screenplay by Lee and James McBride. 121 minutes. Rated R for brief violence, language and a disturbing situation. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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Spike Lee's messy, meandering, bluntly polemical "Red Hook Summer" has one crucial ingredient: a raw vitality. This celebration of African-American resilience in a struggling New York neighborhood envisions two cultures coexisting uneasily in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. It is on the side of hope.

There are the so-called old-timers, the loyal parishioners at the Lil' Peace of Heaven Baptist Church, whose indomitable preacher, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (rousingly played by Clarke Peters of "The Wire"), inveighs against 21st-century ills in his thunderous sermons. The other side is a tight little knot of homeboys, rappers and drug dealers living in the same housing project as Enoch.

The housing project is not the gangster-film cliché of a bullet-scarred battleground, but a well-maintained complex in which the two groups mostly keep their distance.

Lee's vision of Red Hook is in some ways the opposite of another Brooklyn neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, which he portrayed as an ethnic tinderbox in his 1989 film, "Do the Right Thing." Linking the two movies is the reappearance of Mookie (Lee), the pizza deliverer from the earlier film, still making his rounds all these years later.

Arriving in Red Hook from Atlanta is Enoch's 13-year-old grandson, Silas Royale, aka Flik, who has been dispatched to Brooklyn for the summer by his mother (De'Adre Aziza). A prep-school student from a middle-class background, Flik (Jules Brown) is a self- professed nonbeliever and vegan who complains about his small room and Enoch's cooking.

Harassed by the homeboys and relentlessly badgered by his grandfather to accept Jesus, Flik makes a friend in Chazz (Toni Lysaith). The depiction of the friendship between these lonely, discontented children going through puberty is a sharp reminder of what it feels like to be at that scary, in-between age.

If Flik is the movie's eyes and ears, Enoch is its heart and soul. For all his inspirational rhetoric, he is an exasperating blowhard who loves the sound of his own voice. Whether in the pulpit or strolling through the project, he never stops preaching and dropping the name Jesus.

Just when the film seems about to become mired in repetition, one of Enoch's services is interrupted by the dramatic equivalent of a gunshot to the head, as Enoch's past catches up with him. At this point "Red Hook Summer" turns into another movie: a feverish tabloid dream crammed with symbolic images.

But if "Red Hook Summer" goes slightly mad and leaves crucial plot threads dangling, it still registers like a flashing sign that cannot be ignored.

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