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Summer of Sam

Summer of Sam (1999)



Average Rating: 5.6/10
Reviews Counted: 96
Fresh: 48 | Rotten: 48

Spike Lee offers intense visuals but his storytelling feels crowded and overambitious.


Average Rating: 4.4/10
Critic Reviews: 27
Fresh: 8 | Rotten: 19

Spike Lee offers intense visuals but his storytelling feels crowded and overambitious.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.1/5
User Ratings: 32,140

My Rating

Movie Info

New York City's infamous summer of 1977 was a scene of disco divas and the culture clash between fashionable patrons of Studio 54 and the new wave of punk rockers who invaded Manhattan. It was also one of the hottest summers on record and produced the city's first serial killer, whom the tabloids, in a frenzy to boost their circulations, quickly dubbed "Son of Sam." With the media playing an integral role in creating mass fear and paranoia, the whole city became a hotbed of trepidation and


Mystery & Suspense, Drama

Michael Imperioli, Victor Colicchio, Spike Lee

Aug 28, 2001

Touchtone Pictures

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All Critics (101) | Top Critics (27) | Fresh (48) | Rotten (48) | DVD (13)

Like most of Lee's work, this bites off more than it can chew, but the breadth and energy are impressive.

September 23, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This is trashy exploitation at its clumsiest. Once more, a Spike Lee movie has been undone by the earnestness of being important.

April 27, 2007 Full Review Source: New York Observer
New York Observer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Trouble is, the overlong narrative, however entertaining from minute to minute, is a mess.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The disappointment with Summer of Sam is not that it's exploitative; it's just difficult to figure out what it's supposed to be about.

March 22, 2002 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Lee is a powerful filmmaker who certainly knows how to have an impact on an audience, but those who survive his ministrations are likely to wonder if in this case the battle was worth the bruises.

February 14, 2001 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Summer of Sam scatters most of its force by straying far from the compelling, plenty-complex business at hand.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This ultimately disappoints, but it is good to see Lee branch out into subjects which don't immediately lend themselves to his single-minded politicizing.

September 23, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4

The film is sloppy and ill-formed, its tone lurching drunkenly from turgid soap opera to soft-core porn, descending at times to low camp.

August 7, 2008 Full Review Source: Sacramento News & Review
Sacramento News & Review

I needed stronger and more balanced characters to really care what happened.

May 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Whatever you think of Spike Lee, when he has the faith in his talent and material and is able to be political without the dogma, he's one of the best filmmakers to come out of America in the 1980's.

December 6, 2005 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

Lee does capture the terror a serial killer can wreak upon the community, but his concentration on the weak characters hurts in the long run.

April 9, 2005 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

The story makes very important points, and shows us a graphic parable of the wages of sin. But the ugliness along the way will be too much for some viewers....

January 15, 2005 Full Review Source: Looking Closer
Looking Closer


August 11, 2004 Full Review

Spike Lee's most ambitious movie, is joltingly inspired at times. It's also offensively redundant and needs editing.

June 28, 2004 Full Review Source: Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)

The cast sizzles.

May 20, 2003
Palo Alto Weekly

An intelligent, compassionate, adult story told to thrilling, fearsome effect.

October 15, 2002 Full Review Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Enquirer

...tremendous, haunting, multi-textured ...

August 23, 2002 Full Review
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Both beguiling and confounding, an enigmatic blend of banality and brilliance that ultimately manages to overcome its myriad shortcomings through nothing but the sheer force of Lee's visionary direction.

June 5, 2002 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

It's easily Lee's most accomplished and satisfying movie since Malcolm X.

April 3, 2002 Full Review Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A riveting and unsettling look at the summer of 1977 when fear and paranoia reigned.

March 5, 2002 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

A sprawling, brilliantly acted character study which touches on love, friendship and betrayal, while also managing to recreate the last days of disco without a note of self-parody.

April 17, 2001 Full Review Source: Sight and Sound
Sight and Sound

Everything that is good about Summer of Sam is also bad because Lee pushes every good impulse he has into overdrive.

February 27, 2001 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Audience Reviews for Summer of Sam

I am usually one to dislike Spike Lee's work due to his knack for starting fights and complaining about more talented directors. Even I can admit however that Lee can at times make a good effort. Although Summer of Sam is not a great piece of cinema, this is much better film than most in Spike Lee's filmography. The cast really elevate the material, and for what it is, this is an engaging thriller from start to finish that will certainly appeal to viewers looking for a well acted movie with effective thrills. The film could have been better as well, and though Lee tries to craft something quite different from his other work, he at times feels uncertain on how to really make this a standout feature. Spike Lee has made a good film here, and though I hate the guy, I quite enjoyed this dramatic thriller. If only he would change his outlook and shut his mouth, he would be more respected. With this film, he crafts something compelling and worth seeing. This is quite different and even if it's not perfect, it's one of his better films. The film is mixed in terms of what it tries to be, but it's always engaging due to its varied cast and well thought out characters. I will be honest, I wanted to avoid this film, and I thought it wouldn't be good due to the fact that Lee's films tend to be preachy and packed with racial tension, but Summer of Sam is different and refreshing. The cast and plot are compelling and elevate Spike Lee sometimes lacking direction. I did enjoy the film, and along with Malcolm X is Spike Lee's second best directorial effort. Even Lee's haters, like me can admit that this is an entertaining film and it works due to well written characters and standout performances. You can only imagine how much better the film would have been better if someone else would have helmed the project. This is a flawed film, but better than what I initial thought.
July 26, 2013
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

Know what? I bet that Spike Lee would make a really brilliant zombie movie. He really excels at crafting stories about groups of characters caught in circumstances that bring out the worst in everyone. This movie reminds me a lot of Do The Right Thing, but it's made twelve years after and set ten years before. I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn't have been) that this movie spent so little time with David Berkowitz himself and so much more with all the characters made paranoid and hostile to each other in the wake of his insane and random murders. The Son of Sam murders have fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that leads former friends and people who've grown up together to mistrust each other, form vicious little in-groups and turn on other people to make themselves feel more secure. Not unlike in The Walking Dead. These characters seem really three-dimensional and real to me, and everyone's motivations, while sometimes despicable, are at the very least understandable. I really like the way Ruby and Ritchie get into the burgeoning CBGB's punk scene and come together, and I really liked Vinny and Dionna as the profoundly unhappily married couple trying to repair their strained relationship. Are they even compatible? I love this movie. It's so human and so big, and Spike Lee tells the story with a real sense of flair and zeitgeist.
January 18, 2012

Super Reviewer

On a scene by scene basis this film is alright, but it is a mess when taken as a whole. It's like the filmmakers came in with twenty ideas and a clumsy script that does not fully develop any of them. This leaves confusion as to what message Spike Lee was trying to convey. There are moments of brilliance in this movie, accompanied by some good acting. The most noteworthy performance is Adrien Brody. Yet for every moment of brilliance, there are tedious elements that prevent the film from being great. The relationship sub-plot with John Leguizamo's character feels like a very bad soap-opera that is only related to the Son of Sam killings by sheer coincidence. This sub-plot is a time-killer that doesn't add to the overall story. Plus there are some characters that are too cartoonish to be taken as real people, which counteracts the gritty realism Spike Lee is trying to achieve. If Spike Lee had taken the time to refine the script and made it less crowded this movie could have been really great. As it is, it is a mixed bag.
January 5, 2012
Christopher Heim

Super Reviewer

Probably one of Spike Lee's best movies. The story is so engaging and powerful. It touches on so many subjects of the time regarding race, creed, gender, sexuality and psycho killers without becoming bloated and boring. John Leguizamo and Adrien Brody gave amazing performances as usual. Instead of fabricating a lot about the Son of Sam killer, Spike Lee centered the story around the neighborhood in which the murders took place which worked quite well. You really get to see how a community reacts under fear.
November 17, 2009

Super Reviewer

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