Runtime 134 minutes
Recently I wrote that the movie The Spy Who Dumped Me could have been a good movie if they had made it as a thriller and forgotten the comedy. Similarly, this effort by director Spike Lee could have been a good comedy because if this is true, and it is based on former Colorado Springs Detective Ron Stallworth’s book of the same name, the Keystone Kops were alive and well in the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1978. For some reason and on his own he responds to an advertisement for people to become members of the Ku Klux Klan and gets a call back. Not being the brightest bulb in the universe, Stallworth gives his real name and establishes communication with the local Klan leader, Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold).
He then suggests to Colorado Springs Police Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) that he go undercover without setting forth a reason and without explaining a goal. Bridges, for equally opaque reasons, reluctantly goes along with the idea.
However, since Stallworth obviously cannot be the undercover detective who has to personally interface with the local Klan since he is black, he suggests that Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who is Jewish, impersonate him in face-to-face meetings. Yeah, that’s a great idea; have a local cop who could easily be recognized by someone in a group of lawless people who have probably already had problems with law enforcement and who hate Jews as much as they hate blacks, and a Jewish one no less, try to impersonate a lawless bigot. But that’s what these geniuses did.
With plot holes galore, it goes from the ridiculous to the sublime. Stallworth continues to communicate by telephone with both Walter and, eventually, David Duke (Topher Grace), who is the Grand Wizard of the KKK, while Flip makes all personal appearances with the hateful white supremacists who make up the local KKK. This is akin to the Keystone Kops taking on the Three Stooges, and could have made a more effective screwball comedy.
Unfortunately Lee is a polemicist and wanted to tell the story as a serious drama and paint Stallworth as a hero, even though Lee himself admits that the story reminded him of a Dave Chappelle comedy skit in which Chappelle plays a blind man who joins the KKK without realizing that he isn’t white. Eschewing casting aspersions at Stallworth’s lame “undercover” efforts, Lee’s main comedic points are the conversations between Duke and Stallworth in which Ron makes Duke look like a fool (not a difficult task) because Duke thinks he’s talking with a white bigot.
I don’t know if the film’s denouement is accurate. I don’t want to have to read Stallworth’s book to find out, but I doubt its veracity because it is such a Hollywood Ending that it seems contrived. Without that ending the movie, and what Stallworth and Zimmerman went through, are meaningless because they accomplished exactly nothing except to survive. It’s certainly not beyond Lee to make up the finale to lend credence and value to his film. The production notes are silent about the veracity of the ending.
Naturally, being a left-wing activist, Lee has to bring in Donald Trump and what happened in Charlottesville at the end of the movie, manipulating the context. In fact, relating to that part of the movie, the production notes Lee issued to critics state, “Audiences surely will be entertained by Stallworth’s inspirational life story – but the film also just might encourage some viewers to undertake the good fight.”
What? Lee wants viewers to be as foolish, bungling, and irrational as these Colorado Springs policemen were?
Tony Medley is an MPAA-accredited film critic. See more reviews at TonyMedley.com.