25TH HOUR (Spike Lee, 2002)

A tedious, clichéd, appallingly sentimental movie about post-9/11 New York City angst, 25th Hour reconfirms director Spike Lee’s low level of accomplishment as filmmaker. Despite a sturdier script than he is accustomed to work with, by David Benioff, based on Benioff’s pre-9/11 novel, Lee whips up, as if by rote, another one of his incoherent, sappy melodramas punctuated by a hateful rant against all sorts of ethnic groups in the city, delivered by the main character, only to have the rant coyly and unconvincingly withdrawn at the last minute, to suggest gooily a rather incredible change of heart. But hey, man, the guy found out that his girlfriend didn’t betray him to the law, as he thought she had done. Wouldn’t such a revelation straighten out any crooked head?
     Not Monty Brogan’s, I think, despite the safely vague and incredibly soft way that Edward Norton plays Brogan, who with buddies, girlfriend and dog is spending the last day and long night of his life before serving a seven-year prison term for dealing drugs. I agree with Lee regarding New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, but he must be daffily naïve to believe that dealers are as nice, if bottled-up, as Norton makes Brogan out to be, except for that rant in a public bathroom. Nice people become dealers? I can buy that. But I can’t accept that, having plunged themselves into such a dark and dangerous world, they would remain as Andy Hardyish as Norton makes Brogan out to be. The guy would have more of an edge; he would be more like the bastard who is his best friend, a bond trader by the name of Frank Slattery, whom Barry Pepper plays without nuance, much as Norton plays Brogan without any discernible nuance. Even the script fails when Brogan goads Slattery into pummeling his face, to protect him, presumably, from homosexual rape in prison. (Norton apparently had gotten his full of that in American History X.) Norton, Lee seems to believe, is too pretty for incarcerated toughs to resist. On the other hand, it isn’t Brogan’s face that will be attracting cell-side attention. Let me be blunt: underscoring his vulnerability, Brogan’s beat-up face, which will heal after all, will have the opposite of the desired effect.
     25th Hour is largely a ludicrous film and almost entirely a fatuous one. It rarely connects with any sort of reality. As is Lee’s wont, the film refers to a social context that it nonetheless refrains from addressing and analyzing. It does stir up considerable guilt amongst its characters, and for this reason, I suppose, and the restricted time element, of course, it vaguely recalls John Ford’s great The Informer (1935); but much more than that it conjures memories of other lousy films by Lee.
     By now there have been far too many of them.


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