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"Somehow I liked R. Kelly more before he installed the turnstile."

She Hate Me
(R, 139 min.)
Selected theaters

Thursday, September 02, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

She Hate Me

Big business as usual: Spike Lee's She Hate Me blows a muffled whistle on corporate fraud

By Anthony Del Valle

Spike Lee may be the most infuriatingly gifted director today. He's a genius who's never made a decent film.

This time out it's She Hate Me. Scene after scene marks the visual work of a master. The camera always seems to be in the most intriguing place; the lighting--the way the sun spills into frames and comments on the action--is comically ethereal; the dramatic happenings are punctuated with minute observations of human behavior.

But taken as a whole, the movie is an ungainly mess--inconsistent in tone, embarrassingly obvious in story and intellectually a cheat. The script (by Lee and Michael Genet) lets us know right away it's going to deal with a hip subject: corporate greed. Young, ambitious, biotech executive Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) is caught in the middle of a huge fraud scheme. We can tell this company is a bad place because it's run by, among others, middle-aged, tight-faced, ball-busting women like Margo Chadwick (Ellen Barkin) who use the word "fuck" a lot and aren't married. Mean boss Leland Powell (Woody Harrelson) gives morale-building speeches to his staff while writing notes to Margo instructing her to fire anyone who disagrees with him.

You'd think this one-dimensional take on the Evils of Big Business would be a set-up for comedy, but Lee apparently wants us to take this seriously. Soon Jack is fired for turning whistleblower, and is forced by economic circumstances to become part of a scheme conceived by his ex-girlfriend to have him father children with lesbians. The films perks up here because Lee has fun with his real forte: sexual satire. A group interview with Jack about his "qualifications," and an ensuing montage of all the couplings--followed by a montage of all the labor pains nine months later--is about as good as American movies get. (The scenes call to mind the memorable girlfriend interviews in Lee's first major success, the low-budget 1986 She's Gotta Have It.)

Yeah, you can argue the portrayal of lesbians is the result of a male heterosexual filmmaker's sexual fantasy, because Lee clearly implies that a studly man can take care of a woman who thinks she don't want dick. But since when does satire have to be "correct"? Lee is best when he forgoes agenda and shares with us his viewpoints, politically correct or not, on human behavior.

Unfortunately, the original storyline about the big bad company takes over, and the story plods along long after it's really finished. Lee spends the time lecturing us on everything from institutionalized racism and prostitution to the evils of money and the martyrdom of Watergate security guard Frank Wills. (The man whose work led to Nixon's resignation died destitute at age 53. His poverty is blamed here on America, but Wills' tragedy is a lot more complicated than that.)

The trouble with Lee's serious side is he wants his films to be political arguments, but doesn't have the patience to define his viewpoint. His movies are a flea market of ideas, with not one seriously constructed thought. He goes limp when he pontificates. (Does Lee think he's really adding to the discussion about Enron-type disasters by having a company head being played as the Big Bad Wolf?)

Mackie has a fine, masculine, dominant presence and establishes a relationship-appropriate rapport with whomever he shares the screen. And Lee has achieved an admirable ensemble effect with a cast that ranges from the rookie to the veteran.

If only the director didn't apparently think of himself as a great thinker. If only making great movies would be enough.

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