She Hate Me

on July 28, 2004 by Wade Major
For all the rage that Spike Lee has directed against, well, just about everyone, it's ironic that he's never bothered to save any of it for his worst enemy, namely himself. For close to two decades, Lee has pricked, poked, and squeezed the cinematic form, creating a distinctive body of work that is both exhilarating and endlessly frustrating. In most cases, the problem is the same--too many disparate stories and themes for any single film to comfortably accommodate. Dashing hopes that age might begin to mellow his impulses, Lee's latest, "She Hate Me," suggests that he's instead drifting further in the wrong direction.

Anthony Mackie stars as Jack Armstrong, a promising young executive at a thriving pharmaceutical firm awaiting FDA approval for what may be the world's first AIDS vaccine. But it's a house of cards--an Enron-style collapse in the making that begins when the company's star scientist--an eccentric, diminutive German--takes a high-rise swan-dive into a pool of pavement. After Jack uncovers the irregularities and turns whistle-blower, the company retaliates by firing him and setting him up to be the fall-guy.

His comfy executive cash flow suddenly erased, Jack is approached by his ex-fiancée, Fatima (Kerry Washington) and her new girlfriend, Alex (Dania Ramirez), with an unusual proposal: They will each pay him $10,000 if he'll agree to get them both pregnant. With considerable reluctance, he agrees, but flatly rejects Fatima's subsequent suggestion that they turn the operation into an ongoing business… at first. As his need for money finally trumps his sense of morality, he caves to the plan, agreeing to service as many maternally-minded lesbians as Fatima can line up for the $10,000 fee.

In his highest-profile role to date, Mackie is exceptional, so convincingly wracked by his dilemma that empathetic audiences will find themselves both loving and hating him in equal measure, much as he starts to both love and hate himself. One scene in particular, in which Jack and Alex finally break down their failed relationship, is close to being the best-acted scene that Lee has ever directed.

Had he focused his energies and attentions exclusively on this particular narrative thread, "She Hate Me" might have triumphed as both story and social commentary. But Lee's determination to connect a simple morality play with an array of unrelated social, economic, historical and political dots quickly turns the whole affair into an unintelligible, tedious mess. At the point where a normal, cohesively-written movie would begin winding down, Lee revs things up again, promoting the corporate scandal angle from subplot to main plot and deploying the sad story of the black security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in as a starting point from which to rage that Watergate, Iran-Contra and Enron-style corporate corruption are all somehow part of an ongoing Republican racist continuum.

While this presumably all makes sense inside Spike's head, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever onscreen. It's merely more of Spike's patented venting--yet another sorry soapbox built from the wreckage of a promising story. Starring Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, Jim Brown, Sarita Choudhury, Ossi Davis, Brian Dennehy, Woody Harrelson, Bai Ling, Lonette McKee, Paula Jai Parker, Dania Ramirez, Q-Tip and John Turturro. Directed by Spike Lee. Written by Michael Genet and Spike Lee. Produced by Spike Lee, Preston Holmes and Fernando Sulichin. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Rated R for strong graphic sexuality/nudity, language and a scene of violence. Running time: 138 min

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