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'Da 5 Bloods' review: Spike Lee's Vietnam drama is unfocused, slow moving

"Da 5 Bloods" tells the story of four

"Da 5 Bloods" tells the story of four African-American Vets (left to right) Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) , Eddie (Norm Lewis), Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo) and David (Jonathan Majors) searching for the remains of their fallen squad leader. Credit: Netflix/David Lee

MOVIE "Da 5 Bloods"

WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Four African-American veterans return to Vietnam to find a fallen soldier’s remains – and the gold he buried.

MY SAY If any filmmaker could tackle the Black experience in Vietnam it would be Spike Lee, the man behind “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X.” In his latest, “Da 5 Bloods,” Lee tells the story of four Black veterans who return to the jungle of their nightmares to dig up a horde of buried treasure. Initially, at least, they’re driven not by greed but by a sense of fairness and just reward: “We repossess this gold,” says one, “for every Black boot that never made it home.”

“Da 5 Bloods” is a companion-piece to Lee’s Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman,” about an African-American cop who infiltrates a ring of white supremacists. Written by Lee and Kevin Wilmott, both films are set in roughly the same turbulent period and feature a soundtrack of vintage soul (here it's mostly Marvin Gaye) with a Terence Blanchard score. Both films also deal with a complicated idea: What it means for Black men to serve an establishment that doesn’t fully serve them in return.

There, however, the similarities end. Where “BlacKkKlansman” brimmed with humor and roared along like a roller coaster, “Da 5 Bloods” wallows in self-seriousness and has trouble getting from one scene to the next. That's not really a surprise: Lee has always been a wonderfully unpredictable and maddeningly inconsistent filmmaker. “Da 5 Bloods” has some of his best and worst hallmarks: Deep-reaching themes and a strong social conscience, but also a preachy streak and a lack of focus.

The film opens in Ho Chi Minh City with a reunion of the four former soldiers: good-hearted Otis (Clarke Peters), now-wealthy Eddie (Norm Lewis), roly-poly Melvin (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) and troubled Paul (Delroy Lindo), whose Trump cap sparks a few charged conversations. Paul is the film’s anti-hero, an angry cynic in the vein of Humphrey Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs, of “Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and Lindo's intense performance is the one aspect of this movie that feels truly riveting.

Nearly everything else feels unconvincing. The characters are exasperatingly inconsistent: It’s impossible to tell whether Paul’s son, David (Jonathan Majors), is a weakling or a hero, just as Paul himself flip-flops between tenderness and contempt for the young man. The action sequences are clumsy to the point of embarrassing; the use of hidden mines, meant to ratchet up tension, instead border on gruesome comedy. Meanwhile, we’re meant to be guided by the ghost of fallen solider “Stormin’” Norman, but it’s a one-dimensional role that leaves Chadwick Boseman (“Black Panther”) little to do but strike poses.

The war genre simply may not be Lee’s forte; his World War II film “Miracle at St. Anna” also succumbed to clichés. Here, a brief scene of horrific gore will grab your attention, but “Da 5 Bloods” will mostly test your patience during its epic-length running time. Chalk this one up as a misfire, and let's hope Lee next project hits the target.

BOTTOM LINE Spike Lee follows his Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman” with an unfocused and slow-moving mess.

DA 5 BLOODS (1 ½ STARS)

PLOT Four African-American veterans return to Viet Nam to find a fallen soldier’s remains – and the gold he buried.

CAST Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Chadwick Boseman

RATED R (strong violence and some gore)

LENGTH 2:35

WHERE Netflix

BOTTOM LINE Spike Lee follows his Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman” with an unfocused and slow-moving mess.

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