DVD Review: Chi-Raq

ChiRaqDVDSTUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: Spike Lee | CAST: Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack
RELEASE DATE: 1/26/16 | PRICE: DVD $19.98, Blu-ray $24.99
BONUSES: featurette, extended/deleted scenes, music video
SPECS: R | 127 min. | Drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 1/2

Produced by Amazon Studios and released in theaters on a limited basis, Spike Lee’s latest, Chi-Raq, is a colorful and angry blast of a hip hop-infused musical/drama/satire that uses Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata as its vessel to deliver its anti-violence points bluntly although not always coherently.

Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq

Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq

Chicago’s South Side is more than the meanest part of town: It’s a battle zone, where the Spartans and the Trojans, warring gangs, have been at it for years. Rapper Demetrius Dupree (Nick Cannon, Day of the Dead) is the leader of the former, while the eye-patched Cyclops (Wesley Snipes, Brooklyn’s Finest) heads the latter group. After an innocent child is shot, a plan is hatched by Dupree’s girlfriend Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris, Dear White People) and an anti-violence crusader (Angela Bassett, Olympus Has Fallen) to have all women stop sexual relations with their gang-affiliated boyfriends until there’s an agreement to end the carnage. The movement spreads across the country and beyond, and others—including sex workers, girlfriends of cops, lawyers and others—eventually adopt the doctrine.

Although its tone lacks any consistence and its plotting quite messy, Chi-Raq makes up for the inadequacies with its overall  power and innovation. The wall-to-wall soundtrack, which includes Cannon, R. Kelly and co-star Jennifer Hudson (The Three Stooges), propels the film, as does some expert camerawork (by Darren Aronofsky go-to DP Matthew Libatique) and some clever use of titles, split screens and choreography. Also abetting the film are stars Samuel L. Jackson (Marvel’s The Avengers) as a dapperly-dressed Greek Chorus who offers commentary and history lessons, John Cusack (Love & Mercy) as a fiery white leader of a black church and Steve Harris (Takers) as the leader of a black men’s organization attempting to reverse the anti-sexual decree.

Of late, Lee’s feature output has been all over the place, with his recent releases—the work-for-hire Oldboy and the crowd-funded horror opus Da Sweet Blood of Jesus— failing to find audiences. While Chi-raq’s theatrical life was swift, it’s likely to draw a lot of interest in ancillary markets where fans will recognize that the filmmaker is doing the right thing by stirring the pot in his own compelling, idiosyncratic way.

 

Buy or Rent Chi-Raq
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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.