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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Underrated...B-, 12 January 2005

Just caught this film on cable. I noticed the cable TV guide gave it one star. While certainly not a great film, giving it only one star is a bit harsh. Granted, I wouldn't have wanted to sit through two hours of such a movie, but it breezes by in a relatively enjoyable 90 minutes or so (if even that). I must say, as an American I kinda cringe to think of how "Waking in Reno" must satisfy every unflattering stereotype about Americans in the eyes of Europeans. The four characters are about as Red State as you can get (one of the Arkansas accents is done with remarkable aplomb by British actress Natasha Richardson). Richardson and Charleze Theron, the two female leads are none too tough on the eyes (which the men will appreciate). And Billy Bob Thornton give his usual interesting performance (without a doubt the most intriguing actor in America today). Swayze is just so-so, but not much is demanded of him. Not much is demanded of anyone or anything, for that matter, by this harmless, and quite funny, bit of fluff. Make a note to catch the wry commentary and numerous deadpan jokes about redneck culture (the script could have been written by Jeff Foxworthy). As it is, I believe one of the writers is a childhood friend of Billy Bob's from Arkansas (no doubt Thornton's presence in the film, as well as that of big time stars like Theron, was as a favor to the writer/childhood friend of Thornton). The movie reaches it climax at a Monster Truck show. That alone should be all you need to know about the setting and plot. I give it a recommendation to catch on cable/satellite if one of your movie stations is carrying it, though there are probably better things to spend your money on at the video shop.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Interesting, sometimes beautiful film, yet flawed., 11 January 2005

I just saw it on DVD. Basically, it was an absorbing look back at a very different time and place. You can almost sense Spike Lee's wistful nostalgia imbuing this seemingly violent movie. One gets the impression Lee is looking lovingly back on a hometown that was going through some very dark days -- yet days whose darkness was mixed with brilliance (like the '77 Yankees, and the world-conquering NYC explosion called disco).

I agree with some of the other comments. Spike Lee is very obviously a gifted filmmaker, especially in technical matters. He very convincingly recreates the feel, the atmosphere, the heat, and the fear of New York City those many summers ago. The camera work rate is first-rate, and if the Scorcese-like use of ubiquitous pop music is a bit cliché, at least Lee has chosen powerfully evocative songs. Especially effective are a couple of pulsating tracks from The Who that nicely balance out the diso feel-goodery (an obvious but still effective use by the director of symbolic music that contrasts the danger and violence of late 70's New York with its sophistication and glamor).

There were some excellent acting performances, as well. Mia Sorvino is very good. The Adrian Brody of 1999 is very clearly a major star in the making. And John Leguiziamo's (sp?) genuinely moving and powerful performance may be the best thing about whole movie.

All this said, the Summer of Sam is somewhat flawed. It does drag a bit in places. If you're going to make a film that lasts nearly 2.5 hours, the plot really has to grab the audience and not let go. Summer of Sam wasn't quite strong enough in this area. I think the problem is basically the script. The focus on the troubled marriage may be necessary to construct a meaningful narrative, but it's a difficult task to blend it with the overall panorama of New Yorkers and their battle with the monster on the loose. The former subplot drags down the latter, in my opinion.

Still, Summer of Sam is a visually stunning, generally absorbing piece of movie-making, that, if too long, is a valiant -- and very entertaining -- effort.