‘BlacKkKlansman’ an incendiary return to form for Spike Lee

Spike Lee is basically the filmmaking equivalent of the Hulk.

He’s likable enough when he’s pleasant. When he gets angry, though, he’s downright incredible.

Take his latest, “BlacKkKlansman.” Lee draws moviegoers into the true story of how African-American detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) became a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan by leaning into its absurdities.

From its opening, featuring footage of Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (a pitch-perfect Alec Baldwin) stumbling over venomous lines about an assault on his white heritage, to its portrayal of David Duke (Topher Grace) as an Aryan Ned Flanders type — complete with his “You’re darn tootin’ ” and “What can I do ya for?” — “BlacKkKlansman” has the feel of a Coen brothers film, down to the casting of an underused Steve Buscemi as one of Stallworth’s fellow detectives.

Once you’re lulled into complacency, however, Lee is waiting to smack you upside the head with some deadly serious parallels between its 1970s setting and today.

Black Panther leader Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) rails against the system — “We are being shot down in the streets by white racist cops” — during a lecture that doubles as Stallworth’s first undercover assignment. Beauregard demonizes an entire community as “rapists” and “murderers.” Duke longs for “America to achieve its greatness again.”

At least Lee and his fellow screenwriters Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott don’t have any of their characters declare that there were “very fine people on both sides” of an encounter with the Klan. Lee lets Donald Trump do that himself, during a coda that incorporates footage of the president’s remarks following last summer’s deadly confrontations in Charlottesville, Virginia. (It’s no coincidence that “BlacKkKlansman” is opening on the weekend of the first anniversary of that particular low point.)

Based on Stallworth’s memoir, “BlacKkKlansman” follows the first black member of the Colorado Springs, Colorado, police force from his assignment in the records room, where he retrieves files for co-workers who refer to African-Americans as “toads,” through his quick promotion to the intelligence unit.

Browsing the local newspaper one day, Stallworth sees a recruitment ad for the local chapter of the KKK, calls the number and speaks with its leader, Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold). By reciting some of the abusive language and vile stereotypes he’d encountered throughout his life, Stallworth wrangles an invitation to a Klan meeting.

Stallworth recruits another detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who’s just coming to terms with his Jewish heritage, to share the persona he’s creating. Stallworth will continue his investigation of the Klan over the phone, while Zimmerman will be “Ron Stallworth” whenever face-to-face meetings are required.

The role of Stallworth is a star-making turn for Washington, who first worked with Lee when he was 6 alongside his father, Denzel, in “Malcolm X.”

“BlacKkKlansman” also is an incendiary return to form for Lee, who not only pulls no punches, he adds plenty of haymakers into the mix.

Duke, then the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is portrayed as a buffoon in his telephone conversations with the real Stallworth. He can tell, for example, that Stallworth is a proud white man because of the way he pronounces the word “are.” If Stallworth were a black man, Duke proclaims, he’d pronounce it “are-uh.”

Duke’s rhetoric incites some to violence. Others cheer on a screening of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” with him as though it were a rasslin’ match. Duke’s real danger lies in the way he buries overt racism under political issues so that the ideas can become entrenched. “Eventually, one day, you get someone in the White House who believes that.”

Lee’s contemporary attacks are anything but subtle.

They may even drive some moviegoers away.

Then again, those he’s most looking to offend weren’t exactly lining up to see a Spike Lee movie anyway.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

Entertainment Videos
Tattoo'd America Invites You To Have Fun, Take Pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America Invites You To Have Fun, Take Pictures. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of Las Vegas theater talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N interactive exhibit
The new exhibit features original and recreated props and plenty of interactive features. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas ice cream shop offers everything in the kitchen sink
Have you ever wanted to eat an ice cream sundae out of a kitchen sink? Who hasn't, right? At Sloan's, located inside the Venetian, you can do just that. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Maxie’s in Las Vegas puts eggs Benedict in a box
Chef David Mangual at Maxie’s in The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas makes his eggs Benedict in a brioche “box” layered with spinach, bacon and tomatoes and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caviar Twinkie Served at Stripsteak in Las Vegas
Stripsteak Executive Pastry Chef Vivian Chang and Chef Gerald Chin create a novel savory food item that looks like a familiar sweet treat at the restaurant in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
NAB attendees battle to qualify for Fortnite event
NAB is sponsoring an online video game event with Epic Games’ Fortnite allowing attendees to qualify to go head to head with top players. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Arctic Shrimp Sandwich at Saga near Las Vegas
Chef Gert Kvalsund, a native of Norway, founded Saga Pastry + Sandwich in Henderson to give Scandinavians a taste of home. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk UNLVino
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk about the upcoming UNLVino vent. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christie Brinkley at Smith & Wollensky
Christie Brinkley, in town for her run in “Chicago” at the Venetian Theatre, paid a visit to the Grand Canal Shoppes’ still-under-construction Smith Wollensky on Monday for a ceremonial first toast at the bar. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas
2 artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Kaos nightclub and dayclub
A look at new club at Palms.
CinemaCon Brings Theater Professionals To Caesars
CinemaCon is not just celebs, it's also a place where theater owners can browse the latest in seats, projectors and concessions. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas restaurants provide a taste of ballpark food
The Las Vegas Ballpark, home to the Las Vegas Aviators, will serve food from Giada De Laurentiis and a team of favorite local restaurants. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Taste of the Town: Bobby Flay Opens Shark at the Palms - VIDEO
Bobby Flay opens Shark at the Palms; his first high-end restaurant in 15 years.
Chef Marc Marrone at T-Mobile Arena
Chef Marc Marrone has opened a bao cart at T-Mobile Arena. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio fountains celebrate 'Game of Thrones'
A medley of the theme for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and the song “Winter Is Here” from the show premiered at the Bellagio Fountains water show on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The new number will run in rotation through April 13. The series premieres its eighth and final series on April 14. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan Aunt Chippy talks about being on Jimmy Kimmel's show
Concetta Potenza, Aunt “Chippy” to Jimmy Kimmel, talks about her first time being featured on her nephew’s show. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro at Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro At Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cotton candy crowns pancakes in Las Vegas
At Maxie’s at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, executive chef David Mangual fills pancakes with fruit and cream cheese and piles on pastel cotton candy, which is melted in a stream of chocolate syrup. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Bananas Foster Pancakes go up in flames at The Stove near Las Vegas
Chef Antonio Nunez at The Stove in Henderson, near Las Vegas, flames the pancakes tableside for a fiery presentation. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
El Loco Rollercoaster at Circus Circus' Adventuredome
The El Loco rollercoaster opened at the Circus Circus' Adventuredome in February 2014. It features a 90-foot ascent, followed by a drop that produces a negative 1.5 "verticle G," a 180-degree turn, and reverse 240-degree roll that turns into an inverted drop. The coaster reaches a maximum speed of 45 mph and is the only indoor coaster of it's kind in the U.S., and is the second indoor El Loco coaster in the world, according to MGM Resorts.
Bartending flair competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show
Highlights from the ten contestants who competed for the Shake It Up Flair and Classic Competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Justin Kingsley Hall shares details on his next gig
Chef Justin Kinglsey hall shares some details about the newArts District restaurant he's developing with Kim Owens. (Al Mancini/Las Vegs Review-Journal)
Film prompted Carrie Hogan to found 2 farmers markets in Las Vegas
Carrie Hogan founded Fresh 52 Farmers and Artisan Market in Las Vegas after realizing she had to do something about the influence of factory farms on the food supply. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Home Front Page Footer Listing