Control Nathan and Clint: She Hate Me (2004)
I re-watched She Hate Me and saw Blackkklansman for the first time only a few days apart and was powerfully reminded why Spike Lee remains one of our greatest and vital filmmakers but also one of our most spectacularly awful auteurs when he’s off his game. Lee has seldom been as disastrously misguided as he was with 2004’s astonishingly bad She Hate Me, which you kind sadists voted for me and Clint to watch and then discuss for Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast. .
It’s a movie of wild ambition worthy of superlatives. It’s ridiculously misconceived, flamboyantly terrible and easily one of the worst films Lee has ever made, if not the worst. It tries so hard to be both timely and somehow all-inclusive (why shouldn’t one movie tackle every social issue simultaneously and be satisfying and funny as a raunchy sex comedy?) that it felt like a labored period piece even at the time of its release.
It has subsequently aged about as poorly as you would imagine a movie whose opening credits end with the image of a three dollar bill festooned with the clumsily satirical image of the smiling face of then-President George W. Bush and the Enron logo might. We all know and love W. now as a lovable eccentric and amateur painter, not unlike Jim Carrey, but at the time of She Hate Me's release, W. was considered a real bad dude by commie pinko types like Lee, not unlike the protagonists of the video game Bad Dudes,
For you young whippersnappers, Enron was bad. It was real, real bad. Probably even worse than the heroes of the video game Bad Dudes, who are my only criteria for judging the relative “badness” of things for some reason.
The idea is to be cheeky and irreverent. Instead the movie is giving us fair warning that we’re about to be bludgeoned with messages for the next one hundred and thirty eight minutes. Like the film that follows, the credits go on forever and feature a fascinatingly random/eclectic cast I only half-remembered, if that.
Maybe I didn’t forget key parts of She Hate Me so much as I blocked them out of my mind like a repressed memory. How else did I not remember that Spike Lee made a movie where John Turturro played the father of Monica Bellucci, an actress only eight years younger than him, and that is somehow only its seventh or eighth most distractingly fake aspect?
Anthony Mackie stars as John Henry “Jack” Armstrong, a rising young executive at a corporation whose shiny hallways must reek of brimstone because these motherfuckers are Satanic in their cartoonish evil. They’re the sort of ice-hearted bastards who respond to the dramatic suicide of a morally tormented German scientist with a shrug and an angry cry of, “I don’t give a fuck about that crazy Kraut scientist, I’m talking about Prexelin! “
The ball-busting corporate tyrant not giving a fuck bout that crazy Kraut scientist, but eager to talk about Prexelin, is a sneering, theatrically evil Ellen Barkin. She’s lazily typecast but at least she fares better than Woody Harrelson as a pompous boob with Donald Trump hair and Donald Trump's racial attitudes who refers to African-Americans as “members of the darker nation” whom, in his open-mindedness, he chooses to employ.
Woody Harrelson, in turn, at least does not sound as much like Colonel Sanders or Foghorn Leghorn as Brian Dennehy does as a Southern-fried Congressman who says things like, “Who in the dang tarnation is Frank Willis?”
Who in the dang tarnation, indeed? Our hero’s co-workers say transparently evil things like, “The American public are a bunch of fucking morons. They will buy whatever we have to sell.” They're only slightly more subtle than the similarly corrupt businessmen and women in Neil Breen movies who fill cocktail parties with fun chatter like, "I enjoy doing awful crimes but I pay the media and the cops so much money that they look the other way! Also, I eat babies and kick puppies for kicks!"
So it’s not surprising that Jack is promptly fired from his job, blackballed from his industry and framed for white-collar crimes when he becomes a whistleblower and turns on his old company.
Suddenly unemployed and unemployable, our protagonist discovers firsthand the truth of the old saying that when the good Lord closes a door he opens a window through which countless gorgeous lesbians will race through in a desperate attempt to pay you ten thousand dollars apiece to impregnate you the old-fashioned way, through male-on-female fucking.
Jack’s breathtakingly gorgeous former fiance Fatima Goodrich (Christ, even the names are trying way too damn hard) (Kerry Washington) describes the peculiar arrangement through which she sells what is referred to as Jack’s “man-milk” for ten thousand dollars per impregnation for a ten percent “finder’s fee” as a "sideline occupation for an ever changing economy.” That makes it sound like being an Uber or Lyft driver but with considerably more fucking.
The first batch of glam lesbians who flock to our hero are described as “highly successful, highly educated businesswomen who have achieved the American dream” and, as a nice bonus for Jack, are all stunning, literally some of the most beautiful women in the world, including such international lookers as Kerry Washington, Sarita Chodhuroy, Monica Bellucci, Bai Ling and Paula Jai Parker.
Like everything, Jack’s reign as a sex god to procreation-minded lesbians open-minded enough to want to fuck a dude even though, I have been told, there are other ways for lesbians to get pregnant, is subject to diminishing returns. So while Jack starts out making the fuck-beast with two backs (in a region colloquially known as “the Bone Zone”) with women who could all be Victoria’s Secret models, the women get less conventionally feminine and breathtaking until he’s grinding his way through what appears to be non-mind-blowing sex with the entire starting lineup of an WNBA team.
I wish She Hate Me had embraced its inner raunchy romp instead of muddying the purity of its smuttiness with labored attempts at social commentary. The sex comedy elements of the film are so broad that they belong in a Touchstone comedy from 1986 starring John Ritter entitled The Babymaker! with a lurid, winking movie poster of a panicked and overwhelmed Ritter, clad only in heart-covered boxer shorts sandwiched in between a dozen sexy, poorly photoshopped lipstick lesbians, each holding a dozen red roses and a box of chocolates above the tagline, “Two Balls, One Dick and a Whole Bunch of Horny, Baby-Hungry Lesbian Chicks!”, not a message movie about the death of the American dream and the horrific manner in which we punish our whistleblowers for exposing the corruption and moral rot of our institutions and their leaders.
As a supporting player guilelessly enthuses, “Knocking up a bunch of lesbians? That’s some freaky shit!” She Hate Me seems to wholeheartedly agree that one straight dude and his super-sperm knocking up a bunch of lesbians is, indeed, some freaky shit. But it also feels obligated to reconcile its leering wackiness with an incongruous sense of righteous rage at corporate greed and compromised politicians.
If this were a mid-1980s sex comedy called The Babymaker! (I see it as a late-period Blake Edwards farce), it would seem appropriate to waggishly illustrate the improbably, uncanny efficiency of Jack’s baby batter through crudely animated segments where sperm with Anthony Mackie’s handsome face descend upon eggs with the beaming faces of the lesbians lucky enough to have access to what is referred to indelicately as his “tube steak” in a way that makes She Hate Me sometimes feel like a perversely smutty version of Teletubbies, with the happy smiles of the knocked-up lesbians Jack has impregnated taking the place of that demonic demon-baby sun God.
Our exhausted hero’s large, impressive and skillful penis is so popular with women who are not sexually attracted to penises, except when one is attached to him, that he represents a category of sexuality all on his own, and according to She Hate Me, “Exclusively lesbian, except when enjoying lusty heterosexual sex with Jack" describes a surprisingly sizable segment of the female population.
She Hate Me devotes so much time and misplaced energy to the ridiculous male wish fulfillment fantasy of hot lesbians lining up around the block for a chance to pay a straight dude with not terribly progressive ideas about gender and sexuality (a quality he shares with the film) a small fortune to make them all hot mommies that when the whistleblower plot returns ninety minutes in, I had pretty much forgotten about it.
Ninety shapeless, sluggish, meandering minutes in, She Hate Me becomes, of all things, a fucking MAFIA movie when it is revealed that Simona Bonasera (Monica Belluci), one of the many beauties Jack has put a baby inside of, is the daughter of Don Angelo Bonasera (John Turturro), a mob kingpin who subjects poor Jack, and by extension the audience, to an endless impression of Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
As we have already established, Jack has magical super-sperm that makes all the ladies pregnant. Don Angelo Bonasera, however, apparently knocked up his gorgeous daughter’s wife while he was still a small boy of about eight, so he’s really got something special going on inside his nutsack.
The distractingly young-seeming Don (seriously, couldn't they have at least put some grey in his hair?) discourses windily and extensively on the nature of the black man in America, peppering his observations with statistics and anecdotes. Yet this unlikely expert on black people, this African-American Studies professor in the body of a mafia don nevertheless refers to Calvin Broadus’ professional moniker as “Snoop Doggy.”
Jack somehow becomes a celebrity both for his work as a whistleblower exposing corporate malfeasance and for his sexy shenanigans giving beautiful lesbians the intense heterosexual sex they all apparently secretly crave, at least according to the film.
Jack ends up testifying before Congress. We know he's going to be dropping only Hiroshima-level truth bombs on all the old white dudes when he informs them, “The truth is the main ingredient with which I cook and by the end of the day, we’ll have a barbecue up on the hill.”
What can you do with dialogue like that? If you’re Mackie, you try to deliver impossible dialogue as naturally and organically as possible, and hope against hope that magic can be made in the editing room and that dialogue that punishes the ear in the moment will somehow soar when the whole thing is put together.
One of Jack’s truth bombs involves the sad fate of Frank Wills (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a real-life security guard who made history by helping bust the Watergate burglars, only to die penniless and forgotten, yet another everyday hero whose heroism is ultimately punished rather than rewarded by a system rigged to benefit the white folks at the very top.
In a deeply embarrassing fantasy sequence, Frank is taunted by shoddy, cartoonish representations of monsters from the era like Richard Nixon, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, John Erlichman, H.R Haldeman and even, for good measure, Oliver fucking North.
Like a bad political cartoon in action, everyone announces their name, and then delineates the nature of their evil.
The thing that’s crazy about She Hate Me, other than, you know, everything, including the fact that its title came from the nickname of an XFL player, is that Spike Lee made a movie that was pretty much about everything that was happening culturally and politically at the time of its release yet it’s only a tiny fraction as relevant and timely as Blackkklansman, a movie that takes place in the 1970s.
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