Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer tells the story of Flik (Jules Brown), a pensive 13-year-old kid with a mohawk who never stops peering through his iPad video camera. The force that dominates the movie, however, is Flik’s grandfather, a feisty preacher named Enoch (Clarke Peters). He lives in a squalid housing project that looms over Red Hook, Brooklyn, and Flik has come from Atlanta to spend the summer with him. For a while, we think we’re watching a coming-of-age tale, or maybe a companion piece to Do the Right Thing (Lee reprises the role of Mookie). But Flik remains an outsider, dourly observing a neighborhood he hates. And though Lee dutifully tracks the kid’s adventures, he keeps letting the movie slip into the firebrand grip of Enoch, who can’t stop preaching, lecturing, proselytizing.
Clarke Peters, from The Wire, is a forceful actor with a great face. In Red Hook Summer, he’s like Morgan Freeman’s ’70s evangelical cousin, with his hair worn long and parted like an old mop, and his saddened hound-dog eyes glittering. His Enoch spews out one rant after another. He hates hip-hop, the media, and the Internet — but oh, does he love Jee-sus! Enoch might have made a terrific supporting character, but Lee makes a bizarre mistake by allowing this ebullient crank to take over the film. And when we discover Enoch’s dark secret, then we really start to wonder why we’re watching him. Red Hook Summer has some fantastic gospel numbers, but as drama it’s a casserole that never comes together. C-