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‘Do the Right Thing’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 30, 1989


Spike Lee
Danny Aiello;
Ossie Davis;
Ruby Dee;
Richard Edson;
Giancarlo Esposito;
Spike Lee;
Bill Nunn;
John Savage;
John Turturro
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Are you covering your soft parts? Spike Lee is about to drag you into a sizzling kitchen called "Do the Right Thing." But in this case, you're going to love the heat.

As in heat-of-the-moment racial flare-ups in a black New York neighborhood where Italians serve pizza, Koreans sell vegetables but blacks do all the buying. Why love this kind of heat? Because Lee has fused political message, gripping drama and community comedy with finesse. Whether or not you agree with his provocative views (and late in the movie some of his conclusions could upset the most open-minded of viewers), there's no doubt about the film's sheer power and taut originality. There's no gotta about this any more: Spike has it.

There actually is a kitchen in "Right Thing" -- the one at Sal's Famous Pizzeria on Stuyvesant Avenue, where paisan Danny Aiello and sons John Turturro and Richard Edson have fed the locals for years but still skimp on the cheese. But these aren't just any locals -- they're Spike Lee creations, and they deserve a whole cheese pie each: Radio deejay Sen~or Love Daddy sits atop Stuyvesant Avenue, spinning the discs and giving all-day running commentary, including the movie's funniest line (a summer warning to those with special hair-care concerns). Ossie Davis's Da Mayor is a self-appointed sidewalk politician who's high on opinion and Miller beer. Sweet Dick Willie's R-rated street rap will bring the house down. Grim-faced Radio Rasheem, who blasts Bed-Stuy daily with Public Enemy's anthemic "Fight the Power," seems to live only for size D batteries. And pigeon-toed, slinky eyed Lee himself plays Sal's deliveryman, Mookie, who could use the paycheck but not the slurs.

Those slurs are only part of what leads to "Right Thing's" explosive finale. Mookie (who suddenly gets political), Radio Rasheem and agitator Bugging Out (Giancarlo Esposito) certainly play their parts in it all. But director Lee, with pluralistic panache, keeps things open to wide interpretation -- though his viewpoint reveals radical colors from time to time. But whatever the ultimate truth (and there really isn't one), it's clear that everyone in the movie could use a cold moral shower by the end of the day.

What counts is Lee's artistic achievement (he is aided superbly by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson and scorer William J. E. Lee, the director's father). With "Right Thing," the maker of "She's Gotta Have It" and "School Daze" has made a quantum leap into the ranks of America's most serious-minded moviemakers. This is radical filmmaking at its best; it'll have you arguing -- and laughing -- all the way home. You'd be doing the right thing to bring your posterior on down to catch it.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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