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City Life, Family Strife

Spike Lee returns to old haunts, and old ways, in Crooklyn

But they fight all the time, as do the kids, so when Troy is sent to visit her cousin in Virginia, it's with the sense that somebody's sanity is at stake. Though his story demands it, Lee seems to resent having to leave Brooklyn, so he tries to jazz up the Virginia sequence with a cornball camera trick. Since Troy's annoying aunt sees life through a warped perspective, Lee films her world through a distorting fun-house lens. It's an idea, but a pretty sophomoric one.

That's just one of Lee's miscues. When tragedy strikes the Carmichaels, Lee keeps us at an almost Bergman-like distance. Maybe he thought the movie's blows would hurt more if we didn't see them coming, but instead it makes the film's swipes at drama feel perfunctory. Too, there is an ugly side to Crooklyn. Lee allows his mean streak to surface in the children, and for the most part that feels like refreshing candor. Yes, kids can be this nasty. But when the object of their venom turns out to be both the only white and the only homosexual in the film (RuPaul, god-like, transcends all categories), the humor feels like bile. The ugliness isn't restricted to whites. The Southern aunt is judged harshly for her lack of cool, and a joke Troy plays at her expense is the meanest thing a screen kid has done since Macaulay Culkin's antics in The Good Son. And Lee plays this bit of nastiness for laughs.

So. We have a mixed bag in Crooklyn, but one that's well worth opening, especially in this dreariest of movie seasons.

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