Adam Driver, Spike Lee and John David Washington attend the photocall for 'BlacKkKlansman' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2018 in Cannes, France.

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Movie Review: 'BlacKkKlansman'

It's ultimately an entertaining and vital movie that packs quite a wallop.

August 10, 2018 - 10:10 am

By Bill Wine

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Director Spike Lee opens his latest joint, "BlacKkKlansman," with a blistering racist tirade by cameoing Alec Baldwin, as well as memorable, iconic clips from "Gone With the Wind" and "Birth of a Nation."

Over two hours later, he closes with nightmarish contemporary news footage from Charlottesville.

The power of those images and the extent to which they resonate are so much stronger than the narrative that connects them, they seem almost a rebuke of the central true story.

But if the latest exploration of racial themes by the prolific and accomplished Lee ("Do the Right Thing," "Malcolm X," "Jungle Fever," "4 Little Girls," "Get on the Bus," "Inside Man") isn't among his very best and most impactful films, it's nonetheless an urgent, provocative, audacious outing.

A fine John David Washington (real-life son of frequent Lee-ding man Denzel) stars in this biographical crime dramedy as Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the 1970s.

The first African-American detective to even serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department, rookie cop Stallworth, who feels stuck in the records department, is intent on volunteering for and carrying out an insanely dangerous mission: an undercover investigation that results in the infiltration and exposure of the local Ku Klux Klan at a time when the extremist hate group, led by "Grand Wizard" David Duke (Topher Grace), is sanitizing their violent rhetoric in the hopes of appealing to the mainstream.

And not only does he do so; with the help of a more seasoned Jewish colleague, played by Adam Driver, he becomes the improbable head of the local chapter.

The screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Keevin Willmott, and Lee, based on the autobiographical book by Stallworth, "Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime," in its exploration of racial hatred and humanity's ugly instincts, frequently shifts tones as it mixes darkly funny humor with gut-wrenching melodrama.

Consequently, the characters aren't always fully fleshed out and the narrative moves in fits and starts.

That said, "BlacKkKlansman" is an often angry and sometimes messy but ultimately entertaining and vital movie that still packs quite a wallop.

As for parallels between the racial relations of the '70s and those of today, they mount up and bounce off the walls like ping-pong balls set in motion in a wind tunnel. 

And on this score, Lee doesn't have to — and doesn't — oversell them. The numerous telling observations do not register as if they are low-hanging fruit. Just the opposite. And that's because, no matter how serious the film gets, and no matter how many winking references there are to the disheartening horror beneath the seeming lightheartedness, the film never stops also being a satirical romp.

So we'll race toward 3 stars out of 4. "BlacKkKlansman" is a wildly ambitious, somewhat uneven but inspiringly impassioned docudrama in which Spike asks for and deserves a little Lee-way.