Dir: Spike Lee. US. 2004. 138 mins.

There is not a more fascinating - and exasperating -film-maker working today than Spike Lee. He is one of the few directors whosecontrol of the medium is so assured and his style so elegant that a viewercan't help but be sucked into his world. Yet the worlds he cooks up are oftenso confused and contrived that it is hard to like his movies without majorreservations.

She Hate Me is archetypal Spike. After thegrimly compelling The 25th Hour, he now opts for a timely satire on bigbusiness and sexual mores which he co-wrote with Michael Genet. It all startswell enough with a brisk pace and beguiling plot, but, this being a Spike Leejoint, it soon starts to veer wildly out of control and never regains itssanity. Alternately smart, provocative, offensive, ham-fisted and didactic, SheHate Me is ultimately a mess of ideas and tones. An often engaging mess,but still a mess.

Box office prospects are limited for the film in thedomestic market where other Lee comic ensembles like Girl 6 ($4.9m, FoxSearchlight, 1996) and Bamboozled ($2.27m, New Line, 2000) havestruggled to sell tickets.

Internationally, where Lee's films and indeed any AfricanAmerican story traditionally fail to register, it will be unlikely to make atheatrical impression. The strength of the cast and the sexy subject matterwill stir up broader interest both home and abroad on DVD.

Anthony Mackie, a bright young actor who shone in RodneyEvans' Sundance competition entry Brother To Brother, holds his own withaplomb as Harvard MBA-educated John 'Jack' Armstrong, a young butsuccessful executive in a pharmaceutical giant which is about to launch amiracle HIV cure onto the market.

The film opens with the suicide of the company's chiefscientist and the news that the FDA is refusing to endorse the drug. Outragedat the scientist's death and the response to the crisis by his bosses(Harrelson, Barkin), Jack informs on their business dealings to the Securities& Exchange Commission. Branded a whistle-blower, he is fired, unable tofind work elsewhere and penniless.

Enter an old girlfriend Fatima (Washington) who left him foranother woman years earlier. Fatima has a plan to give him $10,000 if he willimpregnate her and her girlfriend Alex (Ramirez) and says that she has a gaggleof lesbian friends who would also happily pay the same amount for his services.Quickly he is impregnating scores of women, but trouble hits when one of them(Bellucci) turns out to be the daughter of a Mafia gang boss (Turturro) - a complicationwhich arouses the suspicion of the SEC.

The opening section of the film in the pharmaceuticalscompany and the segue into the baby-making business promise more than Lee isable to deliver. His absurd portrayal of the Italian 'family' -presumably, and hopefully, a comic reference to criticisms leveled at him inthe past for his blinkered depiction of Italian Americans - followed by aCapra-esque, pompous courtroom finale, an indulgent recreation of the Watergatebreak-in (!) and a sexual conclusion which will have lesbians rolling theireyes, take the film out of satire and into a sort of desperate madcap comedy.

Not that it doesn't look wonderful courtesy of the talentedcinematographer Matthew Libatique who infuses the film with a warm, sexy hue orsound good thanks to Terence Blanchard's gorgeous symphonic jazz score.

Prod cos: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks.
US dist: Sony Pictures Classics.
Int1l dist: Columbia TriStar, Pathe.
Prods: Spike Lee, Preston Holmes & Fernando Sulichin.
Scr: Michael Genet, Spike Lee, based on a story by Genet.
DoP: Matthew Libatique.
Prod des: Brigitte Broch.
Ed: Barry Alexander Brown.
Mus: Terence Blanchard.
Main cast: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Ellen Barkin, Monica Bellucci, JimBrown, Sarita Choudhury, Ossie Davis, Brian Dennehy, Woody Harrelson, Bai Ling,Lonette McKee, Paula Jai Parker, Dania Ramirez, Q-Tip, John Turturro, ChiwetelEjiofor.