It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Chi-Raq" is a modern-day musical satire about violence and guns and men and women and sex and power. Its title is a slang term coined by residents of Chicago's violence-plagued South side, empowered by statistics showing that more Americans have died from gunshots in the last twelve years than soldiers involved in the American occupation of Iraq. The movie is angry and horrified and mournful but also warm, sensual, life affirming, and so blisteringly funny that critics and political commentators are sure to blast it as distasteful.
No matter: "Chi-Raq" clearly does not give one-fiftieth of a damn what anyone thinks of its methods; it knows what it is and what it wants to do and commits to its singular vision from start to finish. It's a
movie that only Lee could have directed with such imagination, high and
low wit, and sorrow. It is the director's first straight-up, unabashed musical
since "School Daze," his best work in at least ten years, and a culmination of tendencies we've seen percolating in his work since his 1986 debut feature "She's Gotta Have It."
The film is co-written by Lee and independent filmmaker and University of Kansas film professor Kevin Willmott ("CSA: Confederate States of America"). It has a plot drawn from Aristophanes' ancient Greek comedy "Lysistrata" and dialogue written mostly in rhyming couplets ("In the style of his time/Aristophanes made that shit rhyme!") It features spectacular, gliding widescreen camerawork by Matthew Libatique, nearly nonstop musical numbers, eruptions of bawdy sex and appalling violence, and a narrator played by a fedora'd Samuel L. Jackson who stalks through the film in an array of dazzling suits, playing essentially the same role that he played in "Do the Right Thing" by way of the stage manager in Thornton Wilder's play "Our Town." Its loopy magnificence makes every other current American film in wide release seem comparatively timid. And that's the triple truth, Ruth.
Rapper-actor Nick Cannon stars as Demetrius Dupree, leader of a purple-clad gang called the Spartans that have warred for years against the orange-clad Trojans, led by the fearsome but humor-impaired Cyclops (Wesley Snipes, who of course wears an eyepatch). The film begins with Cannon's uninterrupted, four-minute performance of the film's title track, which plays out as audio-only: no actors, no dancers, no scenery, just a black screen with lyrics superimposed in bold lettering, maybe the most audacious use of onscreen text in a major motion picture since Jean-Luc Godard's heyday.