Spike Lee returns to the Brooklyn neighborhoods of his most famous works — including his celebrated debut, Do the Right Thing — with Red Hook Summer, and an early, sustained single take, tracking his protagonists as they navigate a courtyard in the projects, suggests that this trip home has reinvigorated the director. That early moment of formal inspiration, however, isn't wholly indicative of the remainder of the film, an alternately evocative and lumbering portrait of a multifaceted community that focuses on Flik (Jules Brown), a prep school thirteen-year-old Atlanta native sent by his mother to spend the summer in the titular neighborhood with his grandfather, Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters). Lee defines these and many other players in quick, sharp snapshots that enhance Red Hook Summer's genuineness, creating an air of roiling passions, tensions and desires, which seem to grow less out of melodramatic contrivances than out of the real, pressing experiences of everyday people trying to carve out paths for themselves. That naturalness, unfortunately, is weakened by a script whose theatrical speechifying becomes an increasing drag. And yet, in its messy mix of authenticity and awkwardness, bluntness and elegance, the film also proves to be just like its adolescent protagonist: striving, in its own clumsy but earnest way, toward romantic, spiritual and philosophical maturity.
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