SHE HATE ME — * 1/2 — Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin; rated R (profanity, sex, nudity, vulgarity, violence, brief drugs, racial epithets, brief gore); see Playing at local theaters for theaters.
Subtlety has never been Spike Lee's strong suit. He's always had a lot to say and hasn't been afraid to beat audiences over the head to get his messages across, as unpleasant as that process can be at times.
But the difference between the angry young Lee and the older-but-still-angry Lee is that, back when he was at the peak of his filmmaking skills, he knew when to pull back and when to shut up.
Sadly, the shrill, unfunny "She Hate Me" may be his worst film. It's an overreaching satire that even Lee's biggest fans will find disappointing. Also, there have been accusations of misogyny leveled against Lee in the past, and if anything, this film seems to justify them.
In fact, the only thing "She Hate Me" really seems to have going for it is the cast. That includes up-and-coming actor Anthony Mackie, who stars as Jack Armstrong, the youngest exec at a pharmaceutical manufacturer that's seen better days.
The company's HIV vaccine has been rejected by the FDA, leading its inventor to suicide — and leaving Jack in dire straits. As it turns out, his superiors (Woody Harrelson and Ellen Barkin) are trying to blame him for their failure and for some serious corporate misdeeds.
If that's not bad enough, Jack's ex-girlfriend Fatima (Kerry Washington) has shown up with a proposition for him: She wants to pay Jack to father a child for her lesbian lover (Dania Ramirez). Actually, that turns out to be a profitable thing for Jack, who suddenly finds himself popular with other wealthy lesbians and professional women.
That's plenty of material for Lee to work with, yet he and co-screenwriter Michael Genet also try to explore racial relations, the differences between the sexes, corporate America and even the Bush presidency.
But there's simply too much coming at the audience all at once. And the dramatic shifts in tone are too jarring. It also doesn't help that few, if any, of these characters are particularly interesting or sympathetic, in spite of the actors' best efforts.
"She Hate Me" is rated R for frequent use of strong profanity, crude sexual slang terms and racial epithets (including some slurs about nationality), male and female nudity, some vulgar sexual humor, violence (gunplay and a suicide), brief drug content (mostly references), and brief gore. Running time: 138 minutes.