Chi-Raq

Spike Lee is at his ballsiest in this bold update on the ancient "no sex until peace" play 'Lysistrata.'

Teyonah Parris in 'Chi-Raq.' Credit: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios

Here's Spike Lee at his ballsiest. Who else would take Aristophanes' Lysistrata, set in ancient Greece, and prop it up in present-day Englewood, Chicago, where violence is so prevalent the locals call it Chi-Raq, a mash-up of "Chicago" and "Iraq."

Lysistrata, the heroine of Aristophanes' fable, convinces the women of 411 B.C. Athens to help end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until the guys make nice. In Lee's version, Lysistrata (a terrific Teyonah Parris) and her female warriors issue a blunt mandate: "No Peace/No Pussy." The gun warfare between blacks on Chicago's South Side has become unendurable. Nick Cannon plays Lysistrata's loverboy, Demetrius Dupree, aka Chi-Raq, the strutting chief of the Spartans. A rival gang, the Trojans, is led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), who bombs Lysistrata's apartment.  Things get way out of hand when gunfire tears through a concert hall (shades of the Paris attacks). Then a drive-by kills an 11-year-old girl, whose mother (Jennifer Hudson) is left bereft.

Lee, writing with Kevin Willmott (C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America), creates an unholy mess trying to combine comedy and tragedy. But he's spoiling to be heard and that counts for something. It's helps that a livewire Samuel L. Jackson shows up in multi-hued suits to play Dolmedes, an MC who speaks in verse  that sounds a hell of a lot like rap. The other major speaker is Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack), a white priest inspired by social activist Father Michael Pfleger. It's Father Mike who sermonizes about the demons infecting a hood whose death stats rival those in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Domedes says, "We can't take this much more."

Too much? You bet. Spike doesn't know when to quit, which I think is part of his gift. He's in the pulpit from Minute One when we hear Cannon rap "Pray 4 My City" as the screen flashes the words: "THIS IS AN EMERGENCY." Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has already voiced his objections, which will only fuel the film's fire. Don't know if that sex strike business will take off on a global scale, but Spike thrives on raising hell. Preach, brother.