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Cast: John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Ken Garito, Brian Tarantina, Michael Badalucco, Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Gazarra, Anthony LaPaglia, Michael Imperioli, Spike Lee… and more.

Written by: Spike Lee, Michael Imperioli, Victor Colicchio

Directed by: Spike Lee

Rated: R

Released: July 2, 1999

Overall score: 6/10

Brody performance: 7/10

An aside:

This was a particularly life changing project for Adrien Brody. During a fight scene near the close of the movie, his nose was broken for real. And the moment stayed in the film! You can actually see it happen. It’s quite upsetting, actually. I thought it was my imagination that the moment was left in, until I heard Adrien say so in an interview.

The Biggest Changes I’d Make

The dialog

Okay, here’s the part where I sound like a prudish old lady, but I honestly feel this film would be in my top 10 of Brody’s work if they had cut the F-bombs down by… maybe half? It becomes ridiculously overused and it takes away from the story. It really and truly does. It’s so jarring that you can’t escape into the story – it pulls you back out. You become very aware that these are actors saying this word as often as humanly possible.

If you haven’t seen Summer of Sam, you may think I’m exaggerating. No. It’s actually documented that the film contains 3.06 utterances of “f***” per minute. It actually once held the record for most uses of f*** in the history of American cinema. It has since been surpassed only by Swearnet, F*ck (a documentary on the word), and The Wolf of Wall Street [SOURCE].

Over-the-top sexual content

While I’m nitpicking, a few less Vinnie (John Leguizamo) sex scenes (and faces) would’ve been nice, too. I know they were trying to establish Vinnie as a serial cheater and probable sex addict, but much of it could’ve been implied. The whole orgy sequence was just… unnecessary. Mira Sorvino has said she felt very violated by that scene, and I can see why. I felt violated just watching it. In fact, I’ve skipped it on subsequent watchings.

The talking dog

If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. How ridiculous was that scene?

Spike Lee’s acting

I know many directors like to appear in their own films. I get that. But… yeesh! The only plus is his character doesn’t show up all that often.

 

The Best Things About It

Ritchie and Ruby

To me, the relationship between Ritchie Trengalli (Adrien Brody) and his girlfriend Ruby (Jennifer Esposito) was one of the most interesting aspects of the film. Maybe even more than the actual murder and manhunt storyline. They seemed to be the only characters one could even root for, other than maybe Dionna (Mira Sorvino) and the police officers hunting the killer.

Warned against being together (as they were both carrying a fair amount of baggage), Ritchie and Ruby scoffed and went about their merry way. I wish their story had been a movie all by itself, to be honest. I know I may be a bit biased as a Brody fan, but I really found them intriguing.

The Music/Dancing

The soundtrack is another bright spot for me. Music popular at the time, as well as the original score are both used effectively here. They really help set the mood of each scene. The “Baba O’Riley” montage being my personal favorite.

I also loved the scenes where Vinnie and Dionna danced together. They were very sweet, sensual, and fit the era. A highlight, for sure.

The actual Son of Sam parts

I thought Michael Badalucco‘s  portrayal of David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz was powerful. You almost felt sorry for him at times, as he came across as a very tortured and disturbed soul. I mean, clearly, he was a cold-blooded killer, but Badalucco’s performance really made you wish you could enter the story and somehow help him stop.

 

Overall…

Bias toward Ritchie and Ruby aside, I found the movie as a whole a bit of a misfire — a bit underwhelming from someone as lauded as Spike Lee. Summer of Sam needed more story and far less of Vinnie banging everything that moved and the aforementioned record-setting amount of F-bombs. To me, it’s just lazy writing/directing/acting (whomever is responsible) to tell the entire story via cursing and sex. Some, of course, is needed in a gritty film like this (especially one set in the very decadent summer of 1977), but it went far beyond genuine conversation and situations and reached the point of laughable.

Watching this film, one has the desire to rewrite scenes the way we wish they would have played out (at least I do). There was such untapped potential here and it’s unfortunate.

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