starring Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci
screenplay by Michael Genet and Spike Lee
directed by Spike Lee
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The crescendo to the opening credits of Spike Lee's ridiculous, desultory She Hate Me is a fluttering three-dollar bill with George W. Bush's face on it, an image as impotent as the poster for Fahrenheit 9/11 where Bush is clutching Michael Moore's hand through the miracle of Photoshop. (It's chatroom-prank as dogma.) Lee has a serious case of Moore envy, and it's reduced the long-time firebrand to making ad hominem attacks and casting too broad a net to accommodate fashionable targets like the current administration. While there's no such thing as a graceful segue in the majority of Lee's work as a hyphenate (two of his strongest films in the aftermath of Do the Right Thing have been adaptations of novels scripted by the novelists themselves, i.e., Clockers and the irreproachable 25th Hour), the polemics of She Hate Me--the cutesily ebonical title a tip-off that it's second-tier Lee, à la Mo' Better Blues and He Got Game--are traumatizingly digressive and/or unmoored to any overriding motif.
Take the senate hearing that climaxes the picture: Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), our mouthpiece of a hero, has been summoned before a neo-HUAC to testify that Insider Trading went on at his ex-employer's, but in the span of six or seven minutes, he ventilates the entire spectrum of his political outlook (including how he feels about the Watergate break-in!) to an ersatz Trent Lott (Brian Dennehy). As Jack exhumes enough buried hatchets to humble The Man afresh, the scene blossoms into a nightmarish fusion of Michael Moore and Frank Capra in a movie that proposes the bland Mackie as some latter-day Jimmy Stewart (Jack goes so far as to Pollyannaishly excuse himself from the trial to assist a pregnant woman going into labour)--though it could also be viewed as a nod to the McCarthy satire embedded in The Godfather Part II, whose predecessor is earlier referenced by mob boss Don Angelo Bonasera (Lee stock company regular John Turturro). What neither this passage nor the picture proper ever achieves is suture; at a certain point, stream-of-consciousness is merely inarticulateness--and She Hate Me reaches that point time and again.
The movie begins encouragingly as a work of speculative fiction. Jack, the VP for a large pharmaceutical company named Progeia (one portentous letter away from "Progeria," a syndrome that causes premature aging in children), pops in to get what appears to be his daily pep talk from Dr. Herman Schiller (The Tin Drum's David Bennent, maturing into a facsimile of William Sanderson), the brains behind an AIDS cure just days away from hitting the market. But Schiller's words of wisdom that morning turn out to be a cryptic goodbye, as moments later he jumps out a window to his death. Distraught and unimpressed by senior VP Margo Chadwick's xenophobic defamation of the doctor's memory (swaddled in black from neck to toe (she's Martha Stewart-Vader), Ellen Barkin practically needs a toothpick after referring to Schiller as a "kraut" and a "Nazi"), Jack goes on a fishing expedition and finds a ladder of corruption extending all the way to the top brass: the CEO (Woody Harrelson?!) had refused to extend Schiller's testing period for the unperfected vaccine in order to protect a personal fortune in pre-sold stock. Being a noble sort, Jack blows the whistle, but instead of being hailed as a hero, he suffers a "hi-tech lynching." With his bank account frozen and his name blackballed, Jack reluctantly agrees to donate his sperm to ex-girlfriend Fatima (Kerry Washington) and her lesbian lover, Alex (Dania Ramirez), for $5000 apiece. Such is our first glimmer that She Hate Me may have hitched a ride to the pavement with Dr. Schiller.
Fatima is gorgeous. So is Alex, and so are the glut of lesbians who show up when Fatima starts pimping Jack out to the gay community at large. (Lee does toss the odd butch into the fray for veracity, although not a one of them is granted a speaking part.) Even the frostiest of these Sapphic johns thaws at the moment of penetration, propagating the myths that lesbians are just straight women on vacation and that black men leave a trail of babies while simultaneously indulging a male fantasy of unsafe promiscuity without accountability. (This antiquated thinking is at once subverted and exacerbated in valedictory tableaux confirming that Jack himself doesn't believe in lesbians, since he ensnares Fatima and Alex in a threesome and becomes an unsolicited guardian angel to the remaining mothers.) Once your hero's crisis is whether or not to pity fuck card-carrying bombshell Monica Bellucci (recently in the media for her protests against the Vatican's prohibition of in-vitro fertilization for unmarried women), you might as well have unicorns and gnomes running around. But the most fallacious aspect of Lee's masturbation reverie is the narcissistic treatment of sex as the albatross of a principled black entrepreneur: First petrified by, then morosely resigned to, the task of impregnating dozens of exotically beautiful women (Ramirez, Bellucci, Bai Ling, Sarita Choudhury, Savannah Haske, and on and on), Jack elicits contempt for obstructing the vicarious perspective. You know Spike's grasping at crusades when he starts complaining about getting too much pussy. Originally published: August 13, 2004.