What could Spike Lee have been thinking?
Right on the heels of an unalloyed masterpiece, "25th Hour," the great American filmmaker delivers "She Hate Me," a bizarre, head-scratching hodgepodge of poorly executed bad ideas.
Many film buffs consider Lee a hit-and-miss director, but even his biggest failures ("Jungle Fever," "Summer of Sam," "Bamboozled") have had some kind of coherence, some alignment of angry, passionate ideas, painted with Lee's singular vision and voice.
She Hate Me brings together one movie about a corporate whistle-blower and combines it with a mob movie and a third movie about a guy who impregnates lesbians and turns them on to the power of "man-lovin'." This film would be offensive if it weren't so completely baffling.
Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) works for a corporation on the verge of releasing an AIDS vaccine. Unfortunately, the FDA has rejected it. Jack learns from a weird German scientist (David Bennett) that devious financial transactions have taken place, involving a senior executive (Ellen Barkin) and the company C.E.O. (Woody Harrelson). He decides to blow the whistle and loses his job.
What happens next? Jack receives a visit from his ex-fiancée (Kerry Washington) and her lesbian lover (Dania Ramirez). They want to get pregnant, are tired of dealing with the red tape of official options and wonder if Jack could do it the old fashioned way -- for a paycheck of $10,000?
The rest of the movie, which inexplicably drags on for nearly two-and-a-half hours, details Jack impregnating over a dozen more lesbians (all of whom appear to enjoy themselves), including the daughter of a mafia don, played by Monica Bellucci. Jack pays a visit to the don himself, (played by John Turturro!) and goes to court to testify as a whistle blower, where his entire ugly past comes into the public eye. But everything turns out swell and Jack winds up on friendly terms with each of his 18 lovers and their illegitimate offspring.
As if that weren't enough, Lee throws in even more subplots, including a sad and misplaced one about Jack's best friend who tries to donate sperm but finds that his count is too low. The film goes from that note to gags, gross-outs, more subplots and even animated interludes.
Lee usually has a point to his films, whether it's spoofing the treatment of blacks in show biz ("Bamboozled") or a response over the way white filmmakers romanticize jazz ("Mo' Better Blues"), or tackling the taboo of interracial romance ("Jungle Fever"). But what on earth is "She Hate Me" supposed to mean? Could Lee be angry about whistle-blower films like The Insider"? Or mob movies like "GoodFellas"? Why?
The film falters right from the very start mostly due to the clumsily written script and the misshapen performance by Mackie (The Manchurian Candidate). Even in early, innocuous scenes depicting office life, Lee fumbles, coaxing awkward, amateurish performances from his cast.
But it's that lesbian plot that really sends this movie crashing and burning. It's hard to tell whether Lee believes that homosexuality among women is a myth, that African American men have too many babies, that prostitution should be legal, or none of the above.
It's possible that Lee wants the audience to form its own opinion about this conundrum. If "She Hate Me" had been about something tangible, maybe we could. But this film is more a half-witted, touchy-feely male fantasy that de-emphasizes the fantasy part and still doesn't approach anything close to reality.