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Summer of Sam (1999).

October 24, 2008

The Scoop:
Spike Lee’s take on the Son of Sam killings in New York during 1976 and 1977 is a welcome stretch for him, but ultimately a let-down.

It’s an interesting concept — a study of how the lives of a young Bronx couple, Vinny (John Leguizamo) and Dionna (Mira Sorvino), and their neighbors are affected by David Berkowitz’s notorious killing spree, as well as the other noteworthy events in New York during the summer of ’77 (including the popularity of disco, the emergence of punk rock, the record-setting heatwave and the great blackout). Lee commits his usual sin of over-reaching here, including so many different plot elements that the film becomes long and tedious. The core story, though, has potential and Leguizamo and Sorvino both give first-rate performances.

To Lee’s credit, he tried to move out of his usual urban African-American milieu here. It does not always work to great effect, though, particularly in his treatment of the punk rock scene, which he obviously doesn’t quite understand. His biggest flop, though, is the scene in which he tries to get into Berkowitz’s head — resulting in a talking dog on screen. Talk about a misstep.

Still, Lee is the type of visionary director whose missteps are interesting missteps, and be working outside of his comfort zone here he was able to flex his creative muscles for later projects like “25th Hour” and “Miracle at St. Anna” that show more maturity.

Best Line:
For pure camp value, how can you beat a dog chanting, “Kill! Kill! Kill!”?

Side Note:
David Berkowitz is still serving his life term in prison, but has since become a born-again Christian. He now has a personal website to share his ministry.

Companion Viewing:
“NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell” (2007), “Last Days of Disco” (1998) and “Clockers” (1995).

Links:
IMDb.
LazyDork drinking game.

Take a Look:
Just another night in the life of Vinny and Dionna:

“Saturday Night Fever,” this ain’t:

The fucking short version:

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