Critics' Pick

Chi-Raq (R)

Drama 118 min. December 4, 2015
By Amy Nicholson
Oh Zeus, hear my lament that I was not present when Spike Lee imagined updating Lysistrata to present-day Chicago. I bet he burst himself cackling. Aristophanes' comedy, written during the three-decade Peloponnesian War, concocts a crazy scheme: Women refuse sex until their blue-balled men give in and declare a truce. With Lee's Chi-Raq, Lysistrata's vow never to "extend my Persian slippers toward the ceiling" -- or, in Lee's modern slang, "total abstinence from knocking the boots" -- melds perfectly with the present. Teyonah Parris's headstrong and radiant Lysistrata struts through the streets in camouflage hot pants, all ripe cleavage and chains.

Lee's updated heroine has "a mind like Einstein and a truly luscious behind," drools narrator Dolmedes (Samuel L. Jackson), which is a snortingly perfect name for a character who's half Greek chorus, half Rudy Ray Moore. More perilously, she's the girlfriend of Spartan gang leader Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), who's entrenched in an endless shootout with the rival Trojans, headed by one-eyed thug Cyclops (Wesley Snipes in a bedazzled eyepatch, a welcome sight). A wise woman (Angela Bassett) schools the girl that young life shouldn't be so intertwined with death. Till then, Lysistrata had simply accepted violence as fact. Now she'll end it with a rebellion. "No peace, no pussy," she and her ladies growl, and the city flips out. Yelps strip club owner Morris (Dave Chappelle), whose stages are empty, "These 'hos have shut down the penis power grid!"

Chi-Raq is a marvel. It's Lee resurrecting his voice -- angry, impassioned, and funny as hell -- right when we need it. It's astonishing how well this works. Who would have guessed that a 2,500-year-old sex comedy would feel like the freshest film of 2015?
Spike Lee Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Anya Engel-Adams, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Michelle Mitchenor, Ebony Joy, Felicia Pearson, Samuel L. Jackson, La La Anthony Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott Amazon Studios, Roadside Attractions

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