Summer of Sam
Director: Spike Lee
Screenplay: Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli and Spike Lee
Cast: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino
NY Distribution Status: opens 2 July 1999 (Touchstone)

Grade: C+

One joint at a time, Spike -- one joint at a time. * At least four potentially fascinating feature films lurk within this messy, incoherent mélange, none of which has much of anything to do with either a) the movie's alleged structural conceit, or b) any of the others. Conceptually, it's a disaster: Berkowitz creeps around the fringes, alternately emptying his fabled .44 and clutching his head in rather hyperbolic anguish (madness, as presented here, being akin to a really bad migraine); but while his nom de plume is frequently invoked in the dialogue, the vast majority of what transpires could just as plausibly have happened in the summer of '78, or the late fall of '83, or just last week. The period, despite a wealth of invigorating production-design detail, is exploited rather than explored; consequently, while the film is never quite boring (something of an achievement in itself, since it's hideously overlong at two hours and significant change), it never quite seems to be about anything, either -- or, more accurately, it's about so many things at once that no controlling idea ever manages to emerge. (Compare 'n' contrast with Lee's sole masterpiece, Do the Right Thing, which is often similarly helter-skelter but nonetheless builds logically and inexorably to its devastating conclusion.) Leguizamo, in his most prominent screen role since Hangin' with the Homeboys (we'll just forget that The Pest ever existed), struts up a very appealing storm in the film's most trite (but also most effective) story, about a lothario who wants a whore in the bedroom but won't countenance any "deviant" behavior from his long-suffering wife; other performances range from the occasionally inspired (Brody's affected British accent is a hoot) to the insufferably bland (here as elsewhere, Sorvino all but vanishes from the screen when she isn't being overtly comic) to the utterly baffling (and Anthony La Paglia is in this movie because...?). And, finally, a submission for Entertainment Weekly's recurring "Nagging Questions" feature: Why, in mid-1977, is Brody's aspiring punk rocker raving nonstop about The Who's 1971 album Who's Next, as if he'd only discovered its existence the previous week? Could it perhaps be because Spike wanted very badly to cut key sequences to "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" (both of which are re-edited in a slapdash way that's guaranteed to grate on the ears of anybody who's familiar with the songs)? And doesn't his decision to shoehorn a blatantly incongruous element into his picture merely for coolness' sake exemplify his single greatest failing as an artist?

* (If you're determined to ascribe a double meaning to this sentence, I can't legally do anything to stop you.)