Multiple choice test
Spike Lee’s CHI-RAQ is?
A. Relevant and obnoxious
B. Poignant and offensive
C. Poetic and absurd
D. All of the Above
The correct answer is of course, D.
The title CHI-RAQ evokes the connection between the middle east country and the mid-west city, making the point that the latter has more deaths this century. The script is a spoken word poem from dozens of angry American characters all fueled by Spike’s anger over the current state of America. Based on the Greek play Lysistrata and occasionally narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, it’s less a straightforward narrative and more of a musical with vignettes and verses exploring different avenues of American hot topics; guns, gang violence, feminism etc. Two gangs named the Spartans and the Trojans fight while the women of the city lead a sex strike until gang violence ends. In the cross-hairs of that are John Cusack as a preacher, a confederate general, dance numbers, and Samuel L. Jackson spittin mad Greek rhymes.
That description does not do the film justice at all. It is a circus with various arcade games that range from offensive to moving to hysterical to poetic. It’s an extremely hard frequency to tune into, and I only could for a few scenes but underpinning the entire piece is clearly a man whose passionate and frustrated about our world. Lee’s film, even when its choppy, has the edginess that made him such an essential voice in the first place.
CHI-RAQ is as good as it is bad. As powerful as it is annoying. As important as it is absurd. As audacious as Spike has ever been. The film opens with sirens blaring and the words THIS IS AN EMERGENCY in big red letters. Despite me not entirely “enjoying” it, by the end I fully agreed. For CHI-RAQ’s 127 minute run time it reaches the potency of Lee’s masterpiece Do The Right Thing for maybe 3 minutes. For what Spike is trying accomplish, that’s enough.
Grade: B- but on a film like this a grade is so arbitrary. Spike’s goal wasn’t to create a film to be liked or disliked. He’s starting a conversation by shouting as loudly as he can in EVERY direction. To that I say, good job and bravo Mr. Lee. That’s my grade.