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Starring Mekhi Phifer, Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel, and John Turturro
Written and Directed by Spike Lee

Spike Lee makes you work for it. That being said . . .

Clockers is not a "date" movie. No warm fuzzy at the end.
Clockers is not nearly as violent as you may expect.
Clockers is not as bloated as Malcolm X.
Clockers is not as pleasingly lightweight as Crooklyn.
Clockers does not bury its most interesting story as a subplot, as in Jungle Fever.

Clockers is one of the best movies of the year.

In each of his films, Spike Lee has delivered at least one moment of either technical or story brilliance. Regardless of whether or not you like the film (once you make it to the end), there has always been that ONE thing: The flashy, first hour of Malcolm X; the "real-ness" of the family structure in Crooklyn; John Turturro's developing interracial romance in Jungle Fever. After each Spike Lee joint, I would leave with my girlfriend and we both would agree, "if only there had been more of THAT . . ."

Clockers delivers on the promise. And you don't have to work nearly as hard to get there.

Harvey Keitel and newcomer Mekhi Phifer join Lee regulars John Turturro and Delroy Lindo in a story of round-the-clock, bottom-of-the-barrel, on-the-street drug dealers ("clockers"). It is a story of desperate attempts to maintain the family unit; of cops that are honest; and of murder.

The description does not do it justice.

For the cynics, the story is based on the novel by Richard Price. Martin Scorsese co-produced. And if you want to say that they are the reason that Clockers works, I will not dis you by calling you "fool."

But you are.

And this is how it goes: Lee begins with contrasts. A beautiful opening song plays, while you watch grotesque crime scene photos on screen. As real as the photos are, in this setting everything seems unreal. A lie. Which will turn out to be the point. Then the rap music kicks in, and you're on the street. The language changes, and nice white Jewish boys ("guilty" pleads this reviewer) grab hold and start to concentrate. Start to work.

The world of Clockers is a world of liars. The world of Strike (Phifer), the clocker who must lie to keep himself out of jail, to protect his sales territory and keep himself safe. The world of Rodney Little (Lindo), on the surface a hard working shop owner. Father. Protector. Liar -- for he runs the drug operations in the territory. Strike works for him, and is protected by him. Strike has been ostracized by his family, specifically his mother, for his lifestyle. Strike's brother works two jobs and keeps his family intact, just the way it's "supposed" to be. The way mom wants it to be.

Deep down inside, it is shown that Strike wants the normal life as well. He locks himself in his cramped apartment with an elaborate Lionel train set, the one thing he truly loves. It is the only place he can have the boyhood he didn't get on the street. For on the street, Strike must be tough, and trains are not "tough". On the street, Strike's conflicts literally tear up his insides. Some men would do drugs, or drink heavily. Strike swigs Mylanta.

And on the street, one of Little's dealers is skimming the take. Little wants him dead. Little wants Strike to do it. And the murder is done.

Which is where Clockers kicks into overdrive. It could fall back into the tired "murder mystery" genre. But Lee keeps the focus on relationships. Little and Strike and Strike's brother and family. The little kid who looks up to Strike, and the mother who tries to protect her son from the street.

The drug lord who feels he's been betrayed by a trusted underling, and who must have revenge. The clocker who, in the end, must protect his family. At all costs.

And just when you think you've got it all figured out, you find you aren't even close.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Clockers, he would have paid . . .


Sometime I don't mind paying to work.

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