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SHE HATE ME (R) (2004)

Sony Pictures Classics

Official Site

Director: Spike Lee

Producers: Preston L. Holmes, Spike Lee, Fernando Sulichin

Written by: Michael Genet, Spike Lee

Cast: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, Dania Ramirez, Woody Harrelson, Brian Dennehy, John Turturro, David Bennett, Jim Brown, Lonette McKee, Isiah Whitlock, Ossie Davis, Q-Tip


I saw a few movies this weekend, and I’d like to tell you about them. The first was Boa Vs. Python, a film in which a 50-ft. giant python runs amok in scenic Philadelphia, and the only way the government can think to allay the scaley threat is to send an equally gargantuan boa constrictor after it. One might not think that the boa would immediately hunt the python, given free range of the Philadelphia sewer system, but according to the script of Boa Vs. Python, snakes are very territorial. Then there was Detention, starring the alarmingly-aged Dolph Lundgren as an ex-military phys ed/history teacher who must protect the rag-tag group of inner-city students who were assigned to him for detention (get it?) from a band of criminals with exceptionally poor aim who wish to use the school as their headquarters for a phat drug sale involving the CIA. Their infallible logic: Who would ever suspect them of using a high school as their headquarters? The highlight of Detention is the scene in which a student in a motorized wheelchair successfully evades the Eurotrash criminal with an automatic weapon pursuing him on a motorcycle. Lastly, there was Spike Lee’s newest “Joint,” She Hate Me, the subject of this review. (To read how I tie these three films together, please advance to the final paragraph now.)

Following the suicide of his dwarfish scientist colleague, Dr. Schiller (Bennett), John “Jack” Armstrong (Mackie) is informed by his superior at their startup pharmaceutical company, Margo Chadwick (Barkin), of unethical practices which have been kept from the public to prevent a dip in the price of their stock. Disgusted by his company’s lack of business morality, Jack decides to blow the whistle on his coworkers despite his high-income position. Soon Jack is fired and subsequently blacklisted throughout NYC by Leland Powell (Harrelson), the company’s president. His bank account is also frozen, and he is left unemployable and destitute, eager to somehow maintain his frivolous metropolitan lifestyle. But, just as Jack appears to have reached his nadir, Fatima (Washington), his former fiancé-turned-lesbian, and her girlfriend, Alex (Ramirez), arrive with a very sexy proposition: Impregnate them and they’ll pay him $10, 000—apiece. After much trepidation (not to be confused with trepanation, unfortunately), Jack agrees to supply them with his “man milk” (a phrase uttered countless times throughout the picture), and is soon coaxed into supplying his “man milk” to lesbian after lesbian who lust after babies of their very own, all for the same swank fee. Jack begins to ponder morality once more, this time concerning the children he fathers for his clients. Old feelings concerning Fatima prey on his mind, as does the pain associated with watching his parents (Brown and McKee) argue. Then he meets a crime boss (Turturro) and his daughter (Bellucci), who begs for insemination. Then there’s drama between him and Fatima who, it turns out, he still has feelings for. And, just as you forget that the first whistleblowin’ portion of the film ever existed, Jack is arrested and tried in Washington for unethical business practices actually perpetrated by Powell. When the two storylines finally (unnecessarily) converge, bewilderment will have long since set in—you’re already way past caring what’s happening to the characters. Two hours and some odd minutes after She Hate Me begins, it ends, and you’ll ponder what, exactly, to make of the mishmashed congregation of ideas you’ve just witnessed.

To attempt to summarize She Hate Me’s plot and purpose is an exercise in futility of the highest order; the viewer is so relentlessly assaulted with flurries of half-formed story ideas and Spike Lee’s personal opinions about the state of the world that the film, at times, feels more like a sermon than narrative entertainment. It attempts to cover a lot of ground and fails to adequately cover any. All of the following is stuffed rather awkwardly into one movie: A comment about the shady principles of corporate America; an analysis of the alternative methods of impregnation that women face; an analysis of the alternative methods of impregnation that homosexual women face; a comment on the shallowness of pursuing only financial gain in life; several attacks on the Bush campaign and Republicanism (drawing from the Nixon campaign, even) that seem unattached to anything else in the film; a comment on racism in corporate America; an analysis of homophobia and the populace’s inability to understand the nature of homosexuality; the belief that love can transcend all adversity; comments on racism and drugs from the perspective of an organized crime lord. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Any one of those issues could stand alone as the nucleus of a two-hour motion picture, yet Spike Lee has chosen to weld them together into one creation, and the result is a behemoth of a colossus of a monstrosity of a movie, which fails to sell the viewer on any of its beliefs.

The film’s tone is similarly nebulous. She Hate Me morphs from comedy to drama to courtroom thriller to sexual potboiler so swiftly that it’d make Charlie Kaufman’s head spin. Not that I don’t condone experimental, noncommercial, atypical films—quite the opposite, in fact—but the screenwriter and director need to establish early on a sense of absurdity that is maintained throughout a work, and Genet and Lee fail to provide that here. The characters speak with elevated, unnatural diction, much like those in a Kevin Smith movie, yet the world that the film occurs in is simply plain old right here, right now, without exaggeration or surrealism, and the contrast is jarring and even slightly condescending. Shifts in the narrative line of the film, such as a newscast-style interlude portraying the public’s reaction to Jack’s case and a two out-of-time Watergate sequences, are risks which do not pay off, and should have been sacrificed in favor of progressing the story instead of inflating Lee’s personal arguments.

What She Hate Me has going for it, though, is earnestness, and it’s that earnestness which elevates this film slightly above the dubious zero-star mark. It’s obvious that Spike Lee cares a great deal about the real injustices which exist in America as of this writing, and about which the public should be informed. Unfortunately (perhaps out of fear that the material might become outdated by the time he got around to devoting a film to each subject), Lee crams a lot of things that aren’t even remotely related into one film which comes across as saying that it’s not sure what it’s trying to say. In other words, I applaud him for making a film about challenging subject matter, but he didn’t need to include every single current challenging subject into a two-hour chunk of time that masquerades as an independent narrative film. Calm down, Spike, you’ve still got your edge. You’re still hip, ok?

All of this, of course, brings me back to Boa Vs. Python and Detention. Yes, they are both direct-to-video features, and yes, they are both B-movies, and yes, one of them even stars Dolph Lundgren, but at least they’re aware of what they are and what they hope to accomplish. She Hate Me isn’t. If Dolph Lundgren cornered me in an alley and threatened to jump-kick my stupid face if I didn’t rate those three films in numerical order, frighteningly enough, I’d have to put She Hate Me on the bottom of that very short, very boa, very Dolph list.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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