Fear is one of the most destructive forces in our lives. It can create unbearable stress. It promotes the feelings of separateness that can smash friendships and destroy the fabric of community. Fear also engenders other toxins including hatred and paranoia. It is this powerful emotion that is the subject of Spike Lee's latest film.

Summer of Sam is a riveting and unsettling look at the summer of 1977 when a homicidal maniac dubbed Son of Sam created an atmosphere of panic in New York fed by constant media attention. Lovers necking in cars were his main targets, and so people were advised to stay home, despite the sweltering heat. Clubs were closed. Since the killer seemed to have a predilection for brunettes, women dyed their hair or purchased blonde wigs.

When the police are stymied in their attempts to find the killer, two detectives (Anthony LaPaglia and Roger Guenveur Smith) ask a crime boss (Ben Gazarra) for help. A group of Italian-American men led by Joey T (Michael Rispoli) turn into vigilantes. They decide that the Son of Sam is Ritchie (Adrien Brody), an outrageously dressed punk rocker who has turned his back on his Bronx community. All the fear and paranoia creates a rift between Ritchie and his best friend Vinny (John Leguizamo), a philandering hairstylist whose wife (Mira Sorvino) has discovered his infidelity. The only one who stands by Ritchie is Ruby (Jennifer Esposito), a woman already labeled as a whore by her neighbors.

Summer of Sam is propelled by a heavy-duty rock music soundtrack. The way fear makes strangers of lovers, friends, and citizens comes across vividly in the drama. When people are frightened and confronted with a life-threatening situation, they turn to sex as an outlet or a release for all their pent-up frustrations. But in Summer of Sam intercourse does not provide the healing that is needed to calm all these troubled souls. In fact, in many cases it accentuates the separation they feel from one another.