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Harlem Nights (1989)

They're up to something big

Directed by:

Eddie MurphyEddie Murphy

Rating: 2/10

Running Time: 116 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

'Harlem Nights' was Eddie Murphy's first attempt at getting comfy in a director's chair. Anyone who's seen it will realise exactly why it was also his last. Unlike 'Beverly Hills Cop' or 'Coming to America' – both of which show just how much Murphy can bring to a good action or comedy flick – this lavish 30s-set mobster movie epitomises everything that's dislikeable about him.

The film kicks off in 1918 with a foul-mouthed exchange between nightclub owner Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor) and an angry punter over a game of cards. The scene culminates in the 7-year-old Murphy shooting Pryor's antagonist in the face, which pretty much sets the tone for everything else that is to follow.

Twenty years later, and Murphy has become Pryor's adopted son. Sugar Ray's nightclub is booming, but local swellguy Bugsy Calhoune (Michael Lerner) and bent copper Phil Cantone (Danny Aiello) want a hefty slice of the takings. So, to cut a long and not-very-interesting story short, Pryor and Murphy hatch a plan to dupe da mob and share out the rich pickings between themselves and their staff.

Easily the best thing about the film is the extravagant set design and costumes, which dumps you straight into Hollywood-ized 1930s Harlem. Unfortunately, Murphy's self-written script is of little comedic value, substituting humorous scenarios and predicaments with a thick stream of expletives. Didn't anyone ever tell him that swearies are neither big nor clever?

Worryingly, Murphy also pens himself a fist fight with a woman (Della Reese) and later a scene in which he shoots another woman (Jasmine Guy) just seconds after sleeping with her. The only other female involved in the story is a prostitute who feigns undying love for a married man, resulting in him dumping his wife and kids. Did Murphy honestly think this was funny when he wrote it? Are there any inner demons you'd like to discuss, Eddie?

It's Got: Murphys Coming to America buddy Arsenio Hall as a sobbing hitman in one of the movies few vaguely-humorous moments.

It Needs: To realise that endless tirades of expletives arent enough to equate to good comedy, regardless of how loudly the characters are yelling them.

DVD Extras Theatrical trailer. Ooooh, too kind. DVD Extras Rating: 1/10

Alternatives:

Coming to America, See No Evil Hear No Evil, Trading Places

Summary

Extremely impressively put together, but cripplingly unfunny and at times verging on offensive.

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One Comment

  1. Eternal Phoenix
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    Mildly funny in “very” sporatic moments. Simplistic and uninspired script. With the cast that was ensambled for this film, the laughs should have been more. Nonetheless, it is a movie to be viewed at least once. My rate is 7.0.

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