Summer Of Sam


Summer Of Sam Review

The sixth line of my notes from the "Summer of Sam" preview screeningreads, "if Spike Lee wants us to sit here for 137 minutes, he'd betterpick up the pace."

An hour later, without a hint of an upswing in the movie'stempo, noticed I was near the back of the theater where there was a littlebit of light, so I pulled out the press kit and started reading it, justto have something to do.

"Summer of Sam," Lee's ode to the panic thatstruck the New York boroughs during David Berkowitz's 1977 Son of Sam killingrampage, lumbers like a Cadillac with a flat tire stuck in first gear.

It doesn't follow Berkowitz, per se -- except for a fewunnecessarily graphic .44 caliber interludes placed throughout the film-- because it's supposed to be about the reaction of the city's citizenry.And that would be OK if Lee had picked more interesting citizens.

But in "SOS," we're stuck with a handful of pointless,aimless stories that all center around a group of small-time thugs in anItalian enclave of the Bronx. It's like Lee plundered a few day playersfrom the set of a B-grade Martin Scorsese knock-off.

The plot, what there is of it, spends a lot of time onthe relationship problems of a pair of young marrieds played by Mira Sorvinoand John Leguizamo. Leguizamo has become a philanderer because he can'tbear to ask his willing wife for anything more than mechanical, Missionarymonkey business. His Catholic sex-guilt hang-ups get more screen time thananything else in the picture. Why we're supposed to care, I couldn't ventureto guess.

Also on the card is Adrien Brody ("The Thin Red Line")as a poseur proto-punk who lives in his parents' converted garage and stripsat an underground gay club. He takes heat from his former friends -- theaforementioned neighborhood toughs -- for affecting an English accent andwearing a mohawk and dog collar. Later, while on a vigilante crusade, theydecide the Brody must be the Son of Sam killer based on his fashion senseand force Leguizamo to lure him into a baseball bat ambush.

Meanwhile, Berkowitz (Michael Badalucco) is played as sucha shadowy enigma that you don't come out of this movie knowing anythingmore about the Son of Sam killings than you did going in. A working knowledgeof the murders that summer is pretty much a prerequisite.

Berkowitz's scattered scenes -- over-exposed on grainy,yellow film stock -- consist mostly of three things: 1) Shots of his armholding a gun and blowing off the backs of people's heads. 2) Shots ofhim screaming and rolling around on his bed with a pillow wrapped aroundhis noggin. 3) Shots of him spelling out narrative aides with children'sblocks (like "victims six and seven").

A small payoff, in the form of a surprise laugh, comesin one of these scenes from getting to see the neighbor's black dog speakto Berkowitz (courtesy of computer effects) and tell him he must kill.For those who don't know, when he was caught, Berkowitz told the cops thedog made him do it.

Although most of the performances feel powerfully real,there's not a single soul worth caring about in this entire story. Butit's not as if Spike Lee doesn't know what he's doing. "Summer ofSam" has some very strong moments, especially in the way it depictsthe tension that weighs on the entire city of New York during this killer'srandom rampage. On a small scale, the Berkowitz episodes vibrate with quaking,nervous energy. On a large scale, scenes of looting during a power outage(in which Lee has a cameo as a TV reporter) feel panicky and dangerous.These scenes prove that the director hasn't lost his touch. But you wouldn'tknow it from the rest of the picture. Even the editing is bad -- differenttakes cut into the same scene are painfully obvious (which might have beenintentional, but it's hard to tell).

If I had to say something nice about "Summer of Sam,"it would be that it has a soundtrack so well assembled that even Chic andABBA sound cool in context with Barry White, The Who, Marvin Gaye and TalkingHeads.

Luckily, I'm a movie critic, so I don't have to say anythingnice. Therefore I'm done.

Summer Of Sam

Facts and Figures

Run time: 142 mins

In Theaters: Friday 2nd July 1999

Production compaines: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Touchstone Pictures

Reviews 1 / 5

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew


Starring: as Vinny, as Richie, as Dionna, as Ruby, as Helen