New York in the summer is intense enough with the heat and humidity that bears down on the city from June to August, but if you are a kid from an upper middle class Atlanta neighborhood suddenly dropped into the Brooklyn projects, summer gets a lot more than intense, and quick. Flick (Jules Brown) is sent to live with his incredibly religious grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters), who lives in Red Hook, a neighborhood plagued by poverty, gangs and colorful characters (including a well-known pizza delivery boy from another Spike Lee film).
Flick is combative towards his grandfather from the start, clearly unhappy about being forced to spend his summer away from home. Bishop Enoch tries to get Flick involved with his church, convinced that if Flick lets Jesus into his life, he will be much happier. Flick resents being made to work during his vacation, but when he meets fellow church member Chazz (Toni Lysaith) his attitude towards helping out and attending Sunday sermons softens a bit.
Flick seems most comfortable behind his iPad2, filming the world around him and interviewing those that populate it. Unfortunately his interest in voyeurism and documenting (despite warnings from Enoch) gets Flick into trouble with one of the gangs on the block and the incident seems to send Flick right back into resenting the situation he had just started to warm to. Enoch’s constant sermons (both in front of and away from the pulpit) only work to further drive Flick away from him.
After some advice from Chazz’s mother, Sister Sharon Morningstar (Heather Alicia Simms), Enroch realizes that Flick needs a grandfather, not a preacher. Unfortunately, just as this advice leads to Enroch and Flick having a real moment of connection with one another, some explosive revelations and incidents occur at church that Sunday, shedding light on the reason why Enroch and Flick have not met until now and sending the entire congregation (and neighborhood) into chaos.
Lee’s distinctive style is certainly at play here and you get the impression that Flick’s penchant for amateur filmmaking to escape his situation is a slight extension of Lee himself. Unfortunately Brown and Lysaith (the young actors playing Flick and Chazz) were almost too awkward on screen with one of their first scenes together playing like two students with no acting experience asked to act out a scene in front of the class. Peters delivered a dynamic performance as Bishop Enroch, but the film’s lengthy run-time (130 minutes) took what could have been a sharp performance and drew it out a bit too much.
The Upside: As you would expect from Lee, the film gives you a look into a world many of us would never experience and paints that world to jump off the screen.
The Downside: Red Hook Summer would have benefited from editing some of the more verbose sermons to tighten up the narrative and keep the pace of the film from dragging.
On the Side: There was one question that continued to plague me throughout the film – why did Flick’s mother send him to spend the summer with his grandfather in the first place?