Chi-Raq Movie Review
Chi-Raq is a movie with a message--it’s the delivery that’s the problem. Spike Lee has outdone himself once again with the racially charged satire, which for some reason is based on the Classical Greek comedy Lysistrata. Horribly written, awfully made, sexist, intolerable, insufferable and just fucking awful, Chi-Raq is arguably the worst movie of the year, if not the decade.
Nick Cannon stars as the rapper/gangster Chi-Raq, an unlikable asshole who lives in Chicago, which is also referred to as Chi-Raq because more Americans have been murdered there than than in Iraq. Teyonah Parris stars as his girlfriend, who determines that the only power she has over him is her sexual prowess--and she uses her newfound femininity to prance around in sexy outfits and convince other women to do the same, all for the sake of world peace. Samuel L. Jackson plays the obnoxious narrator, who overacts more than Samuel L. Jackson has ever overacted before.
Oddly, in a movie featuring a nearly all-black cast, the only actor who turns in a good performance is white-as-they-come John Cusack. Who plays the pastor at a black, inner city church.
And that’s the least weird aspect of Chi-Raq, which is less a movie than a delusional, indecipherable rant by a filmmaker who hasn’t made a good movie in a decade.
The film opens with a ridiculously long title sequence that has a marginally OK rap song about Chi-Raq blasting against a black screen, with only the printed lyrics offering something to look at. Lee then shifts focus to Samuel L. Jackson doing his best to get someone to walk onto set and punch him in the face, followed by a bunch of painfully made scenes that establishes Lee’s in-your-face antics.
Chi-Raq offers a few decent moments, including a politically charged eulogy by Cusack that perhaps works because you normally wouldn’t see a white dude saying such words. Another scene, where a gangster in a wheelchair attempts to reason with Cannon’s character, might have been effective had Lee not drowned out the dialogue with the same opening song--angry rap music does not work well as background music.
The music overall is terrible, but even if Lee had used the most amazing soundtrack in the world, Chi-Raq would still be devastatingly bad. I’ll leave complaints about how women are portrayed in the movie to others, but everything in the movie is fucking awful. Playing off the Greek play, much of the dialogue rhymes--and it is not fun to listen to. At all. I almost walked out of the screening halfway through, but didn’t want to get stuck in rush hour traffic.
Chi-Raq ends after two hours and with Samuel L. Jackson reminding us just how obnoxious Samuel L. Jackson can be--and the words “WAKE UP” splashed on the screen. If only I had been so lucky to fall asleep.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.