The fastest swimmer doesn't always win

You don't have to be gay to see a truckload of male wish-fulfillment going on in She Hate Me, especially in a scene in which a sexy lesbian couple take turns planting passionate kisses on our hero, who has been operating as a private sperm bank.

Spike Lee is prolific but his latest release isn't a contender

It's easy to see how, in Spike Lee's eyes, She Hate Me might seem an epic moral statement - one that wraps sex, money, and politics up into one man's year-long crisis, providing opportunities for humor along the way.

Unfortunately, the movie's connections aren't convincing, leaving us with two imperfect storylines mashed into one another; openings in the script for comedy are either ignored or filled weakly. More galling, She Hate Me is a two-hour-and-20-minute film that is a bore even at the 90-minute mark.

Pharmaceutical executive John Henry Armstrong is, as you might guess from the name, a play-by-the-rules kind of guy (likable, even, if you can get past his obsession with making money). So it shouldn't surprise his bosses when, once he discovers document-shredding and other corporate hanky-panky in the office, he files an ethics complaint which leads to an SEC investigation. Quicker than you can say "Enron," Jack is out of a job and his superiors are pointing blame in his direction; somehow, they even get his bank accounts frozen.

Coincidentally, Jack's onetime fiancée chooses this moment to re-enter his life. She and her lesbian partner want to conceive children, and they offer the jilted Jack $5,000 apiece to impregnate them. He puts up a fight at first, but once he realizes that lattés don't grow on trees, he sets his conscience and bitterness aside.

Before long, there's a line of maternity-minded lesbians filing past Jack's doorman. But sexual exhaustion leads to remorse, and by the time Jack is arrested as a scapegoat in the corporate scandal, he has given up prostitution. His salacious history doesn't help his legal defense, though, especially once the mob gets involved. (Don't ask.) Honest John Henry is in trouble.

So is Spike Lee, whose filmography is as heavy with bombs as with triumphs. In one of She Hate Me's more successful comic devices, we watch thousands of animated sperm - all bearing Jack's superimposed face - swimming toward an unfertilized egg. As the trick is repeated, it seems a fitting metaphor for Lee's career: He generates a huge volume of movie and TV productions, most aspiring to greatness, but their success seems a matter of blind chance.

She Hate Me

Dir. Spike Lee; writ. Lee, Michael Genet; feat. Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, Q-Tip, Jim Brown, Ossie Davis, John Turturro, Brian Dennehy, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Mullan, Zitto Kazann (R)
The lesbian community can say for themselves how they feel about their depiction in a film where almost every gay woman has a secret passion for the male organ. But you don't have to be gay to see a truckload of male wish-fulfillment going on here, especially in a scene toward the end in which two very sexy women, ostensibly devoted to each other, take turns planting passionate kisses on our hero.

Outside the bedroom, the arc of Jack's moral renaissance just doesn't ring true - and Capra-esque speeches to the U.S. Senate, ties to current events, and the example of Frank Wills (the security guard who exposed the Watergate break-in) don't make it more believable.

On a real-world note, one wonders if the movie's critique of consumerism doesn't conflict with Lee's second career as an advertiser who has shilled for everyone from Pepsi and Nike to the U.S. Navy. Many top directors do this, of course - master documentarian Errol Morris being one who, like Lee, isn't ashamed to admit it - but they don't all make movies that so clearly argue against selling out. Lee the corporate tool is evident here; he manages to get the Nike Swoosh planted mid-frame immediately after the climax of the film's most passionate sex scene.

Although She Hate Me seems to be marketed as something of a comedy, it's one of Lee's least funny movies. A hallucinatory retelling of Wills' Watergate episode, in which criminals like G. Gordon Liddy brag about what their futures have in store for them, is an exception - especially when an unexpected guest pops up at the end. (No, it's not Dubya, although he does get a dead-on cameo in the opening credits sequence.) Hip-hop star Q-Tip, as Jack's friend Vada, has a casual wit that brightens things occasionally, but not nearly enough to overcome the film's tedious self-importance.

The good news about Spike Lee movies is that, even when one stinks, he usually has another contender waiting in the wings. (His made-for-TV Sucker Free City premieres later this month at the Toronto Film Festival.) The bad news is, spending more time on the writing phase might be the only way for Lee to avoid misfires like this one. •

By John DeFore


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