Summer of Sam [1999]

Director: Spike Lee
Stars: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Rating: NC-17
Runtime: 142 minutes

It's important to note that Spike Lee's drama is not titled Son of Sam. Summer of Sam doesn't chronicle the killer as much as the times: the blistering hot summer of 1977 when the Big Apple's psyche was taken hostage by the lone gunman. We spot the killer (Michael Badalucco) in his mad ramblings, but the film centers on two friends from the Bronx: Vinny and Ritchie (John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody). Vinny and his wife, Dionna (Mira Sorvino), bury a bad marriage (he cheats at a drop of a hat) in the disco halls of the area. Ritchie returns to the neighborhood sporting punk hair, punk clothes, and a British accent that immediately infuriates the neighborhood boys oozing far too much testosterone. Cops, local mob leaders, and the guys on the street all have ideas who the killer is; neighborhood loners to Reggie Jackson (in the midst of World Series heroism) are on their misguided lists of suspects. When the film looks at how the citizens faced the fearful times, Lee scores with his energetic camerawork and pop soundtrack. Yet the film is banal in its domestic dramatics. The film takes large detours into Vinny's home sex life (stagnant) and Ritchie's extracurricular activities. One of the marriage arguments--though real and well acted--is so long and cliché-ridden you wonder if someone fell asleep in the editing booth. Add the point-blank killings and nonstop vulgarity and you have Lee's most unpleasant film. --Doug Thomas

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