Director Spike Lee zeroes in on a diametrically different New York City borough than usual with Red Hook Summer. This loosely defined coming-of-age story depicts spoiled Atlanta teen Flik (Jules Brown), forced to spend a summer in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood with his grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters of "The Wire" and "Treme").
Red Hook Summer initially focuses on the intergenerational conflict between Flik, who views the world through his iPad screen, and Enoch, who scoffs at high-tech modern communications and struggles to keep his storefront church open through force of will. Although Flik initially loathes the situation, he starts to grudgingly enjoy the city through the company of Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), a sharp-talking girl his age. Atlantan Thomas Jefferson Byrd gives a colorful supporting turn as a booze-addled deacon with an unexpected grasp on high finance.
Lee bills the film as part of his "Chronicles of Brooklyn," which include such films as Clockers, Crooklyn, and his milestone work Do the Right Thing. The director even briefly appears as Mookie, his Do the Right Thing character, still delivering pizzas in middle age. Lee clearly loves shooting street scenes and local landmarks, but Brown's flat performance severely inhibits the film's emotional weight.
Peters delivers electrifying sermons and, for a while, Red Hook Summer feels like Lee's bid to encroach on Tyler Perry territory with a film about the street-level demands on contemporary religion. In the last act, Lee seems to lose interest in Flik's growth as a character and instead drops a flabbergasting twist that ups the stakes enormously, without fully exploring its implications. In a throwback to his early efforts as a guerilla filmmaker, Lee shot Red Hook Summer in 18 days — six more than his debut film, She's Gotta Have It — and it feels like the clock ran out just when it started hitting its stride.