Friday, April 28, 2017
HARLEM NIGHTS (1989)
Written & Directed By: Eddie Murphy
Cinematography By: Woody Omens
Editor: Alan Balsam & George Bowers
Music By: Herbie Hancock
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Danny Aiello, Michael Lerner, Jasmine Guy, Redd Foxx, Della Reese, Thomas Mikal Ford, Arsenio Hall, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Lela Rochon, Stan Shaw, Berlinda Tolbert, Charlie Murphy, Robin Harris, Ray Murphy, David Marciano
During the 1920s, a New York illegal gambling house owner and his associates must deal with strong competition, gangsters and corrupt cops in order to stay in business.
The film isn't as bad as some have made it out to be. It's not perfect but looking back. It's still better then some of Eddie Murphy's later films. As at least this film has moments of comedy.
The film isn't a total disaster. It's just not that good. It has a few laughs and is very inspired, but the film shows a half hearted effort by all. As it's obvious Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx are both in Ill health and have very little energy to give. Which is rare for them both, but Eddie Murphy as writer-Director and star is so unfocused that even he seems distracted when it comes to storytelling. Instead of focusing on the story he chooses scenes that are supposed to show character development but more are comedic set-up’s that really lead nowhere. So that when there are dialogue scenes they come off as just releasing more story and plot.
So then with this excellent powerhouse cast this should be a dream project made in heaven and it seems like he was hoping that the cast would smooth out any of the problems with improv. Though it seems most of them suck to the script and the film is stuck.
This is one of those films where it was probably more interesting behind the scenes or just being on the set rather than what is shown on screen. Speaking of which all the locations look like set’s. Which helps the ambiance of seeming more like a 1930’s film. Rather than the 1930’s in general.
One can see why Eddie Murphy choose the time period as a theme, but it is also a bit puzzling. So that maybe if the film had a more competent and focused director. Something could have been made out of this that was more respectable and decent. He wanted to star in a period piece and decided to write one himself. Though he would later admit that he didn’t pay enough attention to his directorial duties as he was more focused on activities other then the film, While it was in production
As the film tries to be a comedic caper film ala THE STING, but never hits as hard or endears itself as various characters are disposable and dispatched with nary a thought. So that you wonder what was the whole point of them. So while there is violence quite a bit. There never seems to be any real danger or threat.
The story of white mobster Bugsy Calhoune trying to take over Sugar Ray's night club in order to control black Harlem is loosely inspired by the real feud between white gangster Dutch Schultz and his war with black gangster Bumpy Johnson over control of Harlem's lucrative "numbers" gambling rackets in the mid 1930's. Which was eventually made into the film HOODLUM
The film works as an Eddie Murphy comedy and a tribute to the comedians who inspired him And we're influential heroes to him. Though unfortunately he gives them an opportunity when they didn't quite have the strength and magic they once did.
The film is certainly one of his more adult humored films. Though still not the best and barely average. As the film can be hilarious but is also spotty leaving those moments to be few and far in between. As when it is bad it is awkward but only good when it is hilarious.
Certain scenes are funny but they are disjointed. So that when they appear you know they are coming. as it is the few times when the film decides to stop moving it's story forward and either showcase a character or certain situation. Such as Della Reese and Eddie Murphy fighting which has nothing to do with the plot but is a funny aside. Other than that scenes that are set-up to be funny or Have quick little jokes fall flat and seem out of character. Also as it happens some those with the star being the director and the writer. He makes his character so unstoppable and such the best at everything. You don't feel that his character really changes or learns anything.
If anything part of the films legacy is that inspired by Della Reese and Redd Foxx’s characters bickering. Two years later they starred on a sitcom together that lasted two seasons unfortunately it ended after Foxx’s death during the second season
Arsenio Hall in his one scene steals the movie. As does Della Reese. With her you don't expect her could moved character to be so fun. Though she has played the cleaner version of this type of character many times since.
The other actors in the film are effective and though sometimes funny they all stay within character more dramatically and are more funny I t heir reactions to situations as none of them really act silly or too stupid. So Michael Lerner and Danny Aiello are quite good and menacing in their roles as the villains. Both coming off best supporting actor nominations also so their careers were white hot at the time. So obviously looking at who was already starring in it was a no brainer. That didn't wuote world for them career wise as hey might have hoped but both have nothing to be ashamed of performance wise in this film.
I remember being excited to see Jasmine guy in this movie. As she was popular on the television show A DIFFERENT WORLD and his was her big movie role and playing a femme fatale. Then being disappointed as her role was of a love interest but plays more like an extended cameo.
This film seemed to signal the beginning of the end of Eddie Murphy's golden period. Where he was a major movie star with mostly successful films financially and audience wise.
This film showed he had flaws and that he wasn't invincible as well as truly showing his ego run amuck of sorts. He film almost feels like an afront to fans showing he didn't care about them as long as he got to have fun and have his comedic influences around him and all of them get paid for it. That was all that mattered
The film does have nice costumes and production design that is on point and I know when you start noticing and praising those things. It can be the kiss of death for a film. As you had enough time to pay attention and seems to be the nicest thing one might say about a film. That usually means the rest is pretty bad. You might find yourself not generally caring about the plot. As it isn't that interesting but does set up the scenes and the relationships between the characters. If you are a Eddie Murphy fan this will test your allegiance as you will either give him a pass or see where it started to all go wrong. Though despite the many disappointments in cinema he has attributed to. I am still for one a big fan and still think him to be one of the funniest people alive currently and still working.