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'She Hate Me' -- and She's Got Company

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2004; Page C01

He lost me at the animated sperm.

Actually, Spike Lee loses it long before that in "She Hate Me," which might qualify as the most misguided, ill-conceived and lamentable film of his career. A starchy excuse for political commentary that manages to fail just as miserably in its feeble attempts at sexual satire, this windy, offensive mishmash should be filed with Lee's most forgettable films, somewhere between "Girl 6" and "Summer of Sam."

"She Hate Me" gets off to an unpromising start, as a fictionalized version of ripped-from-the-headlines events, from Enron to the flameout of Martha Stewart. If the summer of 2004 has taught us anything, it's that truth -- especially when it comes to politics -- is more compelling than fiction. Here, Anthony Mackie plays Jack Armstrong, a pharmaceutical executive who discovers that his company is bilking investors and its own employees out of their stock investments. When he goes to the SEC, he's fired and soon finds himself making ends meet as a sperm donor to lesbians. And not with the help of a turkey baster -- the old-fashioned way. The whys and wherefores of this turn of events are so contrived and convoluted as to make synopsis not just fruitless but also painful.


Dania Ramirez has a close encounter with Kerry Washington, in one of many scenes that seem little more than Spike Lee indulging in some of his more tiresome sexual fantasies. (David Lee -- Sony Pictures Classics)

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The think-and-you'll-miss-it logic of the corporate thriller that is half of "She Hate Me" would collapse under the scrutiny of a fourth-grader; none of it adds up, including Woody Harrelson's unconvincing portrayal of a Ken Lay-like CEO and Ellen Barkin's ghoulish imitation of Martha Stewart as his lieutenant. As the incarnations of big, bad business, they're drawn with the same ham-handed crudeness as the rest of the cast of characters, each of whom either stands for one of Lee's simplistic didactic points (greed is bad, morals are important) or takes the story down yet another unrewarding digressive path. What John Turturro is doing here, delivering a Marlon Brando imitation as an organized crime figure, is probably a question best left uncontemplated in a film that resembles the rant of an indiscriminately raging adolescent rather than the observations of a mature artist.

"You [expletive] with the money, it's gonna be cold-blooded," Jack's father, played by Jim Brown, warns him. Sure enough, Jack's woes with his former employers ultimately lead him to a ridiculously self-righteous appearance before a Senate committee, where he delivers one of the most patently fatuous screen speeches of all time, daring to wrap himself in the same glory as recent whistleblowers at Enron, WorldCom and the FBI. But for all its pretense to topicality, "She Hate Me" -- which was written by Lee and the actor Michael Genet -- has nothing trenchant or particularly original to say about its time or place. Instead it seems to serve mostly as the director's excuse to indulge in some of his more tiresome sexual fantasies involving girl-on-girl action.

Throughout the film, Jack is visited by dozens of mostly attractive gay women, none of whom has apparently heard of artificial insemination or adoption; they approach him with a combination of carnal cynicism, alpha-girl bossiness and orgasmic ecstasy. If Lee is trying to make a political point, it's sloppy. By the time viewers are subjected to a gratuitous soft-lensed flashback of Jack discovering his fiancee in bed with another woman, it's clear that he's more intent on titillating than theorizing.

Somehow, Lee has roped several perfectly good actors to abet his misbegotten enterprise, including Kerry Washington, Lonette McKee, Monica Bellucci and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor, you might remember, made a quietly impressive debut last year in Stephen Frears's "Dirty Pretty Things." Here, he's relegated to playing one of Lee's stick-figure tropes for all that is wrong with America, in scenes that look like auditions for a high school production of "All the President's Men." In a movie full of so many other garden-variety indignities, that's coldblooded.

She Hate Me (138 minutes, at Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Landmark E Street Cinema) is rated R for graphic sexuality and nudity, profanity and a scene of violence.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company