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Wednesday, Dec 2 2015

The late Aristophanes would find little to laugh at if he caught a screening of Spike Lee's Chi-Raq. An adaptation of the ancient Greek comic playwright's Lysistrata, the movie relies upon several BCE conceits — rhyme, a chorus, and elaborate costumes — to tell the story of a contemporary Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris). The moll to a gangster (Nick Cannon), she convinces the women of Chicago's violent Southside — nicknamed Chi-Raq after Chi-Town's murder toll surpassed the number of Americans killed in Iraq — that the only way to bring peace to the streets is to deny their men any freakiness in the sheets. Unfortunately, however, in Lee's hands these conventions come off as self-conscious gimmicks that only distract from the narrative. Also noticeable is the absence of any focused topic, such as racism, which Lee tackled so thoroughly in early films Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X. While Chi-Raq raises many complicated issues — sexism, unemployment, gun control, government corruption, war, and more — Lee has space enough only to glance upon them in the limited two-hour timespan. Worse, he does so in such a heavy-handed, didactic way by having characters emphatically rapping or preaching their perspectives at us. What Aristophanes left to interpretation using ambiguity and metaphor, Lee beats down our throats, which sucks any fun right out of the film.


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Joshua Rotter


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