In ‘Chi-Raq’ (the title rhymes with ‘eye-rack’, evoking both violence-ridden Chicago and Iraq), provocative American filmmaker Spike Lee (‘Do the Right Thing’, ‘25th Hour’) weds his socially minded fury to a giddy musical – often with euphoric results. The material comes from Aristophanes’s comic play ‘Lysistrata’, the first-performed-in-411BC-but-still-radical story of women joining forces and denying their men sex until they stop fighting. In Lee’s Southside Chicago, prowled by dapper narrator Samuel L Jackson, gang warfare is at an all-time high. So the girlfriends put aside their disagreements and shun intimacy, inspiring the world to follow their lead. Protesters hoist posters that read ‘No peace, no pussy’.
The entire movie is delivered in rhyming raps which call to mind the blockbuster Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’ but also the more experimental side of Lee’s filmmaking; he’s cut himself loose from dramatic realism, using his new freedom to address a serious topic. Actor Teyonah Parris, a bright spot in 2014 indie comedy ‘Dear White People’, makes for a slightly bland centre to Lee’s whirlwind. But the supporting performances are all aces: John Cusack lets loose with full-throated rage as an activist priest, while Lee’s old collaborator Wesley Snipes adds appealing thoughtfulness to his tough-guy gang lord. ‘Chi-Raq’ is a bumpy ride, but it’s the kind of wild, surreal adventure you wish more directors would attempt.