Nick Cannon stars in “Chi-Raq,” Spike Lee’s new movie that promotes love and tolerance. (Courtesy Parrish Lewis/Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

Nick Cannon stars in “Chi-Raq,” Spike Lee’s new movie that promotes love and tolerance. (Courtesy Parrish Lewis/Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-Raq’ a rhyming call for peace

Is there another filmmaker so outspoken and passionate, so foolhardy and ferociously talented as Spike Lee?

A look through his filmography can make one feel unwell, especially his more recent efforts (“Oldboy,” “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”); but his fervent new “Chi-Raq” recalls, in some ways, his earlier work.

It also contains one of his most earnest pleas, not about racism or rage, but for peace and love, awareness and tolerance.

“Chi-Raq” is Lee’s nickname for Chicago. Opening titles inform us that the murder rate in Chicago over the past several years is comparable to that of Afghanistan and Iraq. Hence, “Chi-Raq.”

It’s also the nickname of the leader (Nick Cannon) of a gang called the Spartans, at war with the Trojans, headed by the one-eyed Cyclops (a loony Wesley Snipes).

When a neighborhood woman (Jennifer Hudson) tragically loses her 12-year-old daughter to a stray bullet, Chi-Raq’s sexy girlfriend Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) — inspired by the well-read Miss Hudson (Angela Bassett) — comes up with a plan. She will rally all the women to withhold sex from their men until arms are laid down and peace is at hand.

If the name “Lysistrata” sounds familiar, you may remember it from college and a play written by Aristophanes around 411 B.C. True to the play, “Chi-Raq” is written, by Lee and Kevin Willmott, largely in hip-hop rhyme (as well as a couple of musical/dance numbers).

Samuel L. Jackson appears as a kind of Greek chorus, narrating for the camera every so often (and getting all the laughs not already stolen by Snipes or Dave Chappelle in a single scene).

Jackson’s dialogue deliberately echoes the “wake up” refrain he used as the neighborhood DJ in Lee’s 1989 “Do the Right Thing.” Additionally, Snipes and Bassett’s presences recall their roles in Lee’s “Jungle Fever” and “Malcolm X.” It feels like Lee has gone back to the drawing board.

Lee goes over the top in more than one scene, but chooses well in the casting of John Cusack as a sympathetic preacher in a black church, his sermons attacking the roles of guns, prisons, and other evils in modern life.

In other scenes, the filmmaker tends to repeat ideas, stretching their scope as well as their credibility. After a while, it becomes difficult to care much about the characters as people.

Yet, messy as it is, Lee retains an intense focus on his message. Even if the characters don’t quite seem human, “Chi-Raq” makes you want to embrace the humans outside the movie theater.

REVIEW

Chi-Raq
Three stars
Starring Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett
Written by Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott
Directed by Spike Lee
Rated R
Running time 2 hours, 5 minutes

Angela BassettChi-RaqMovies and TVNick CannonSpike LeeTeyonah ParrisWesley Snipes

Just Posted

Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based vendor, is under contract to supply voting machines for elections in San Francisco. (Kevin N. Hume/Examiner file)
Is San Francisco’s elections director impeding voting machine progress?

Open source technology could break up existing monopoly

The 49ers take on the Packers in Week 3 of the NFL season, before heading into a tough stretch of divisional opponents. (Courtesy San Francisco 49ers)
‘Good for Ball’ or ‘Bad for Ball’ — A Niners analysis

By Mychael Urban Special to The Examiner What’s the first thing that… Continue reading

Health experts praised Salesforce for keeping its Dreamforce conference at Moscone Center outdoors and on a small scale. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Happy birthday, Marc Benioff. Your company did the right thing

Salesforce kept Dreamforce small, which made all kinds of sense

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, pictured with Rose Pak in 2014, says the late Chinatown activist was “helping to guide the community away from the divisions, politically.”
Willie and Rose: How an alliance for the ages shaped SF

How the Mayor and Chinatown activist shaped San Francisco, then and now

The Grove in Golden Gate Park is maintained largely by those who remember San Francisco’s 20,000 AIDS victims.<ins> (Open Eye Pictures/New York Times)</ins>
Looking at COVID through the SF prism of AIDS

AIDS took 40 years to claim 700,000 lives. COVID surpassed that number in 21 months

Most Read