Lee has always favored strong female characters and Flik’s friend Chazz (a terrific Toni Lysaith) is cut from the same cloth as Nola Darling from She’s Gotta Have It. There is none of the sensuality of that 1986 classic about a brazen beauty in the hood, but all of the funny, smart sass. Chazz’s bubbly presence literally lifts the film any time she’s on screen.
Another bright spot and a familiar Spike Lee type comes from Deacon Zee (Thomas Jefferson Byrd). He’s the church’s janitor who beds down in the building’s basement and is forever reeling from booze and ranting about Apple stock. But his ramblings are worth paying attention to because Lee has slipped a wise man into the Deacon’s shuffling shoes.
There are jabs at the cruise ships that pollute the area and the asthma that now plagues the kids, specifically Chazz. And the film takes a few harmless shots at encroaching gentrification by well-heeled whites.
But these are minor asides from the real business at hand — the Bishop and the boy. The world may pull at Flik, but the Bishop is determined to save him — from apathy as much as the devil — in ways that are sometimes laced with humor and at other points saturated with pain.
Despite the film’s standout performances, Red Hook Summer is weakened by the great divide between its characters. Too many that play pivotal roles are only half-formed and fade against the Bishop’s fire.
Indeed, nearly all of the emotional upheaval of Red Hook Summer is carried on the fiery shoulders of the exceptional Peters. He is the pillar on which this house is built. But even the right reverend is left perpetually in a sweat and must eventually pay for his sins, for nothing can stand up to the heat of Lee’s long hot summer.
Even so, Peters imbues his pastor with such a vital and visceral energy that, like his congregation, you’ll want to raise your hands and shout “Amen.” And if he doesn’t move you, the spirited Lil’ Peace of Heaven gospel choir (the real one is used in the film) surely will.