If the definition of great art is that it moves the soul, then the great thing about Spike Lee's new movie, "Do the Right Thing," is that it provokes, shrieks and bullies souls and minds in America's summer movie audiences. And it makes another claim to greatness by pointing an angry black finger in the face of Hollywood moviemakers who fear the consequences of dealing with poor black people and race. For all its reach for artistic greatness, however, what the movie achieves is great sadness. Despite its defiant attitude and willingness to confront racism and poverty, "Do the Right Thing" comes up empty-handed -- it has nothing to say. The film amounts to shrieking and bullying in the name of frustration, futility, impotence and, finally, self-destruction. Lee, the movie's producer, writer and director, has created a film that gives the viewer the real feel of a hot, claustrophobic summer day in a poor, black and Puerto Rican street in Brooklyn. Here are the guys on the corner hanging out sunup to sundown, the open hydrant, the old drunk, unemployed men sitting on old chairs and telling jokes, and even the sweaty faces near the oven in the corner pizzeria. Lee does a brilliant job of portraying today's poor black Brooklyn neighborhood, right down to the absence of a single middle-aged, middle-class black -- and specifically a single black male with a job (except for a radio deejay improbably stuck in a brownstone and a pizza delivery man, played by Lee, who has held his job for less than a month). In interviews, Lee argues that his mission in making the film is to present an accurate picture to America of the black underclass, which, he rightly notes, has no voice in American movies. What he has achieved is a colorful, sometimes funny and mostly realistic portrait of one urban street. He even has a Mister Softee ice cream truck, a New York summer staple, turning the corner playing its bell-ring jingle. In the midst of this gritty realism are the all too real drudgery and defeatist attitudes of poor black neighborhoods. Those come through loud and clear in the film, too. There is Radio Raheem, a black teenager investing his life in carrying around a boom box radio played at deafening volume; Radio Raheem's greatest triumph comes when his box drowns out a Puerto Rican's radio. And there is Buggin' Out, a young man who makes his mark at the start of the film by paying for a slice of pizza with a dollar bill he has crumpled into a tight ball and thrown at Sal, owner of Sal's Famous Pizzeria. Then Buggin' Out takes his futility to a new level, challenging Sal for having a gallery of pictures of famous Italian faces on his wall but not one black. Eventually Buggin' Out makes the absence of any black person's picture a political issue -- demanding a boycott of the pizzeria and finally provoking a fight that leads to a riot. The insignificance of having a black person's picture on the wall is never dealt with and its disproportionate importance to a young man with nothing else going on in his life is never addressed. Unfortunately Lee, as the film's intelligence -- its author -- never speaks to these questions. But none of the very real and exasperating racial issues in America gets confronted, although he does raise them here and there in the din of shrill voices full of hate and anger. For example, Lee touches on such New York race issues as the Tawana Brawley affair. She claims to have been raped by a group of white men despite overwhelming evidence indicating she faked the assault. But Lee is satisfied to simply scrawl on the wall in one scene, "Tawana Told The Truth." His approach sheds no light, explores nothing. Lee also fails in dealing with other important racial issues. On Stuyvesant Street, the location for the movie, a home for the defeated and the despondent, Lee brings to life several very real national racial problems: Asians being resented by black residents for opening a store in a black neighborhood despite the fact that thestore had been boarded up until the Asians opened it; Italians owning a prosperous pizzeria in a black neighborhood where they don't live and the owner's son treating blacks with disdain even as he lives off the money they pay for his father's food; A young mother whose boyfriend comes to see her only for sex and doesn't support their infant son. The issues are there on the silver screen thanks to Spike Lee. But Lee never masters the issues. He leaves them hanging, incoherent and confusing. Instead he spends the movie capturing the look and feel of the neighborhood and black youth today. He has got every fad down; the snapping of the fingers; the pendants shaped like the continent of Africa; the fade-out haircuts cut close on the side and long on top; the Michael Jordan basketball shirt and Jackie Robinson baseball shirt. He gets the language right, too. Full-face to the camera and screaming, he has the Asians cursing out the Jews; the Italians cursing the blacks; the Puerto Ricans cursing the Asians. Spike Lee has gotten all those details down, but then he gets lost in the details and forgets about his responsibility as an artist to say something -- to take his story toward a significant end that transcends the details and offers a vision. It is as if he doesn't really know how to end this film at all. He tries four times. In the first attempt, Lee has the pizzeria closing while, leaning against a wall down the street, Buggin' Out is grousing to Radio Raheem that he can't get the boycott started against the pizzeria. In the second attempt, Lee has Radio Raheem and Buggin' Out burst into the pizzeria, boom box blasting, and start a fight with the store's owner. The fight becomes a melee that leads to Radio Raheem's murder by a cop. Then Mookie, the delivery boy played by Lee, throws a garbage can through the pizzeria's plate glass window, inciting a riot. In a third attempt, Lee takes us to the morning after the riot and has Mookie facing off with Sal, the disconsolate pizzeria owner, who is sitting in the entrance of the burned-out remains of his store. Mookie does not come back to argue politics, to apologize, or even to tell the Italian to get out of the neighborhood. Instead, Mookie demands his pay for delivering pizza despite having thrown a garbage can through the man's window. When Sal throws the money on the ground -- in fact twice what he owes him -- Mookie greedily snatches it up and walks away. The scene leaves Mookie and Spike Lee defined by an insignificant, unrevolutionary and selfish act that does not come close to a satisfactory ending. Apparently Lee agrees, because he then attempts one more ending. This time he abandons his medium -- film -- and tries prose. He begins rolling black and white type:He quotes Martin Luther King Jr. on the stupidity and futility of violence. Then he quotes Malcolm X as saying that violence, when it is a response to oppression, is an act of intelligence. By giving Malcolm X the final word, Lee seems to be concluding that the violence he put on screen is politically proper, even hip, and a real option for people who are trapped in black urban poverty. Lee contends in interviews that he is not advocating violence but wants people to wake up to the horrors of today's racism. "I don't have the answers," he tells reporters. The basic problem with that response is it is an artistic cop-out. He feels the need, as a director, for violence, fighting and rioting, but he does not want to be held accountable for explaining it. That's probably a smart decision -- how could he justify poor people tearing up their own neighborhoods and burning out the few stores left in them? He certainly can't justify the violence in the name of an Italian not having a black man's picture on the wall. Would it make a difference in the quality of life on Stuyvesant Street if the pizzeria had its walls papered with pictures of black stars, or the red, black and green stickers that some whites used to put on their cars if they parked in a black neighborhood in a cynical attempt to prevent thefts? Lee also manages to caricature Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent philosophy by making it out to be a limp alternative to Malcolm X's call to arms. King used nonviolence as a tactic to achieve dramatic social change in American society that Malcolm X and threats of violence -- specifically riots -- have never even begun to approach. Lee's distortion of King's thinking seems a craven act in service to the recent upsurge in Malcolm X's popularity among young blacks, some of whom mistakenly see Muslim minister Louis Farrakhan as his disciple. In fact Malcolm X was killed by a faction of Black Muslims that Farrakhan now represents. But by the time the King and Malcolm X quotes have rolled, Lee still has not found a way to bring his depiction of a black neighborhood to some meaningful close. With his flawed attempts at an ending he has slipped from artist to propagandist. Art requires courage, and ultimately courage is what is lacking in Lee's film. One scene attests to this lack of courage. After throwing the can through the pizzeria's window, Mookie sits down on the curb as if he has done a magnificent, revolutionary act that achieves something. Spike Lee, with "Do the Right Thing," has made a similarly loud, crashing noise on the American scene about racism today. Unfortunately, he then sits down and says nothing.