This movie proves that Bill Duke should stick to playing big black goons instead of misdirecting movies. Hoodlum’s the story of the gang war that struck Harlem during the big Depression. The gambling (or as they called it, the numbers) was controlled by a black lady called the Queen. That’s until the mobsters from Downtown decided that they oughta get some of that money. Lucky Luciano’s plan is to convince the blacks that an alliance would be good for everybody, while Dutch Schultz uses violence and threats in order to get what he wants. But someone will stand up to Dutch and Lucky. The man’s Bumpy Johnson, a badass but also a thoughtful, smart, poetry-writing and chess-playing businessman.
As you can see, this isn’t an especially original plot, but it’s good enough to become an enjoyable gangster drama. But the screenplay isn’t really well written. There is a lot of clichés and déjà-vu, and the characters seem phony. It’s hard to understand the way Bumpy acts. One second he’s a hero, the next thing you know he’s behaving like an asshole. Yet, some of the dialogue is funny, and there’s a few good ideas that could have become good scenes. But Bill Duke didn’t belong in the director’s chair. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not the worst director in the world. He just lacks timing. Maybe it’s the editing that is to blame, I don’t know. What I know is that the scenes are always overlong or too short.
There is some action in the film, but it’s not exceptional. The shootings are rip-offs from better films such as “Miller’s Crossing” and “The Untouchables”. Basically, the film doesn’t work much. The performances of Larry Fishburne, Tim Roth and Andy Garcia are neat, but they belong in another movie. There’s some good stuff in “Hoodlum”, but it’s wasted. Too bad, Bill, better luck next time.