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Bonkers in Yonkers

[whitespace] Summer of Sam
David Lee

Flashback: Adrien Brody (spikes) and John Leguizamo (no spikes) relive the long hot summer of 1977 in Spike Lee's new movie.

S.O.S. indeed! Spike Lee's 'Summer of Sam' is a sprawling mess

By Richard von Busack

YO QUIERO DEATH! This was the message (more or less) delivered by a talking dog in the summer of 1977. David Berkowitz of Yonkers, N.Y., became deranged by the yapping of his neighbor's mutt. The animal began to talk to him, giving Berkowitz orders to shoot strangers with a .44. Berkowitz listened and took on the identity of the Son of Sam. In Summer of Sam, director Spike Lee re-enacts this low point in man-canine relations. John Turturro does the voice of the talking dog. The dog's mouth is computer-animated in the fashion of the beloved Taco Bell Chihuahua as he orders Sam to "Kill! Kill! KILL!"

Except for Reggie Jackson, the Son of Sam is probably the most sympathetic character in Lee's slice of Bronx. Yet Berkowitz (Michael Badalucco) is introduced with a pillow over his head and his butt to the camera. It's a way of proving, as Lee has insisted, "in no way shape or form is this a glorification of the Son of Sam." Of course it isn't, but the film is a memoir of him. Summer of Sam plays Berkowitz's scariness for a jolt--a way of kick-starting a movie in which nothing happens, except for New Yorkers bickering in a heat wave.

John Leguizamo plays Vinny, who is too promiscuous to stay married to his wife (Mira Sorvino) and too Catholic to divorce her. Sorvino's nigh-hydraulic whine is activated by this bad treatment, though she gamely dons a Dynel wig and goes to the famous swinging club Plato's Retreat to please her husband. (Naturally, she doesn't enjoy it: this is a '90s movie.) Meanwhile, since the Son of Sam is shooting up the Bronx, a group of vigilante Italians confer under a road sign reading "Dead End" (profound!). The local Mafia boss (Ben Gazzara) frowns into his drink and vows revenge. Suspicion falls on the Bronx's only punk rocker, Ritchie (Adrien Brody, late of The Thin Red Line).

Lee has a cameo role as an Oreo-ish TV newscaster. Did he think it was immodest to write himself a better part? He's stiff as a board. I wish Lee, or someone, had given Summer of Sam a center. The film provides yet another example of how sad it is that the drive-in movie is extinct. Sex, serial killing, lousy performance art, rioting, a deranged fat guy shooting sitting couples in cars--all would have been perfect for the Skyview Six. In 90-minute "ozone" form, the message "we should learn not to judge appearances, even if our neighbor has a G.B.H.-style Mohawk" would be almost subtle. As subtle, that is, as that same message is insipid in the forefront of an overblown 137-minute fiasco.

Summer of Sam (R; 137 min.), directed by Spike Lee, written by Victor Colicchio, Michael Imperioli and Lee, photographed by Ellen Kuras and starring John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody and Mira Sorvino, plays at selected theaters countywide.

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From the July 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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