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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> June 2000 >> Summer of Sam

Summer of Sam

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
3 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
June 2000
IMDB Name:
Summer of Sam (1999)
Spike Lee
MPAA Rating:
R for strong graphic violence and sexuality, pervasive strong language and drug use.

One Right Thing

Clocking in at 140 minutes of drama, Spike Lee's Summer of Sam is a fairly heavy movie. While it lacks the emotional punch of Do the Right Thing's explosive finale, it sets up a similar scene of violence. I found the movie flawless from a technical standpoint, but I was hard pressed at the end to identify Lee's point. It seems unlikely to me that he would make a movie with so much atmosphere and character for nothing.

The movie follows some young adults on Long Island through the paranoia and witch hunts surrounding the murders by the ".44 Caliber Killer". John Leguizamo leads the cast as a married man with incredible guilt complexes built around sex with and without his wife. An early scene sets him up as almost having been one of Sam's victims, and the experience only complicates his already-fragile emotional state. When one of his best friends gets involved in the punk scene, he isn't quite sure how to deal with it, and shows signs of being a good friend while still caving into peer pressure. Although the character isn't so complicated, Leguizamo's performance is.

Cast Connections

I kept looking and looking at Gloria, the owner of the salon that employs Vinnie. After a while I realized it was Bebe Neuwirth, Lillith Sternin-Crane of "Cheers" fame. Ben Gazzara plays the mob boss Luigi in Sam, and he had a similar role, Jackie Treehorn, in The Big Lebowski. Mike Starr plays Ritchie's stepfather, Eddie. He had a funny part in Ed Wood as the owner of a small-time movie distributorship. Spike himself pops up a few times as John Jeffries, a television reporter.

MPAA Madness

I continue to be perplexed by the MPAA's decisions on the line between NC-17 and R. Summer of Sam shows Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino having sex. Is it somehow acceptable sex because they don't enjoy it? Or maybe it's because they're married? Either way, I can't believe that Summer of Sam is allowed to show this when Eyes Wide Shut, released a scant two weeks later, needed digital alteration to stay in the R zone. I don't think people under seventeen should be seeing either movie, but that's just my opinion.

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Copyright 2000-2003 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.