Regardless of the quality of his work, which can vary widely from project to project, Spike Lee's films will endure as a running chronicle of the times, fearlessly gauging the culture on race, politics, identity, and the headlines that pop off the page. As the rest of the filmmaking community turned sheepish after Sept. 11, with major studios recommitting themselves to spectacle and independents gazing at their navels, Lee incorporated the World Trade Center wreckage into 25th Hour—perhaps the only fiction film to capture that epochal event, and certainly the only one that matters. Nobody else wanted to talk about the elephant in the room.
Kicking off with an image of George W. Bush on the three-dollar bill, Lee's latest, She Hate Me, seems primed to delve into the corporate climate that enabled Enron, WorldCom, and others to bilk investors, employees, and consumers alike. When the FDA thwarts a pharmaceutical company's efforts to rush an AIDS vaccine to the market—a potent example of greed masked by philanthropy—executives scramble to dump stock, shred documents, and cook the books. With black VP Anthony Mackie playing the maligned whistleblower, the film initially bristles with up-to-the-minute urgency, as Lee exposes an environment where the bottom line tramples the most basic morality and decency. In one particularly biting fantasy sequence, he contrasts the fates of the Watergate crooks with that of the poor security guard who caught them.
Only that's not what the movie is about. While not quite a red herring, the corporate stuff serves as a prelude to a long-winded and mostly embarrassing treatise on alternative lifestyles and filial responsibility. After the company fires Mackie, blackballs him from competitors, and somehow freezes his assets, he entertains an offer from his ex-fiancée Kerry Washington and her lesbian lover to impregnate them for cash. Soon enough, Washington pimps Mackie out to other lipstick lesbians at $10,000 per successful fertilization, which allows him to continue living in style while absolving him of any fatherly expectations. On a diet of Red Bull and Viagra, Mackie hauls down more than $100,000 in three nights, but his conscience starts to tug at him.
Lee tries desperately to weld the corporate angle to the stud angle under the broad banner of morality and doing the right thing, but, like many elements of She Hate Me, they don't begin to come together. Lee apparently didn't shoot a scene he didn't like, which leads to a 138-minute run time full of bizarre digressions like Q-Tip's emasculating odyssey at a sperm bank, and a cameo by John Turturro as a gangster (and papa to Monica Bellucci!) who impersonates Marlon Brando in The Godfather. But asides aside, She Hate Me suffers most from Lee's Achilles' heel: He hate she. Lee has tried repeatedly to tease out the mysteries of the female psyche, yet save for the awful Girl 6, he can't help but filter his perspective through a story of black male identity. In this porn scenario, he seems open to the idea of alternative families, so long as the lesbians are hot.