Combustible Celluloid
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With: Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, Delroy Lindo, Mekhi Phifer, Isaiah Washington, Keith David, Peewee Love, Regina Taylor, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Sticky Fingaz, Fredro Starr, Elvis Nolasco, Lawrence B. Adisa, Hassan Johnson, Frances Foster
Written by: Richard Price, Spike Lee, based on a novel by Richard Price
Directed by: Spike Lee
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic violence, strong language and drug content
Running Time: 128
Date: 13/09/1995

Clockers (1995)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Punching 'Clockers'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Spike Lee made one of the greatest films of all time with Do the Right Thing, and that earns him the right to be considered a Great Filmmaker. Unfortunately, while all of his other films have been at least interesting, they are all flawed in major ways. I was had pretty high hopes for Clockers, but it falls slightly short.

Clockers concerns a young man named Strike who lives in the projects. Strike deals crack but doesn't ever do drugs himself. In fact, a horrible ulcer prevents him from even drinking anything heavier than a "Chocolate Moo" (the movie's version of a Yoo-Hoo). Strike is sent to kill a dealer that has been stealing from drug lord Rodney Little (Delroy Lindo). Strike's brother confesses to the deed and goes to prison. After that, Strike mostly just hangs around while his friends -- and the cops (played by Harvey Keitel and John Turturro) hassle him. Strike is played by a first timer named Mekhi Phifer, and he gives a fine performance. Unfortunately, it's the character and not the performance of Strike that is the major problem with Clockers.

The script was written first by Richard Price, adapted from his own novel, then re-written by Spike Lee. I can only guess, but based on some of Lee's other work, I bet that it was Lee who softened Strike up. The same thing happened in Lee's Mo' Better Blues. Denzel Washington's character walks around through the entire film looking sullen and wondering why his life is such a mess, without ever taking any action of his own. Tim Burton has this same problem in some of his films, Batman for example, where he is so enamored of his main characters that they never get soiled. The supporting characters get to do all the good stuff. A great drama concerns a great character who goes through hell and back to get something he or she wants.

But again, Spike Lee is a great filmmaker, and some of his individual scenes are played out so well that the movie never really gets boring. It's just that it never catches fire, either. There is enough good stuff in Clockers for me to recommend it, just on a "worth watching" level. For example, Clockers uses an interesting new cinematographer, Malik Hassan Sayeed, instead of the usual Ernest Dickerson. Several flashback and fantasy sequences are shot in a much harsher light than the rest of the film, while other sequences have characters glowing with a white light.

I know Spike has it in him to make another great one.

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