The underworld of 1930s New York erupts into civil war when vicious gang boss Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) attempts to muscle in on the Harlem numbers racket, run by Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne). As Johnson's empire comes under threat and his personal life is shattered, he makes a desperate last bid to retain power - by brokering a deal with one of the most infamous hoods in the business - Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia).
, Bill Duke's interesting but flawed blaxploitation take on the classic gangster movie, usefully redresses a balance. It is all too easy to see the criminal underworld of the 1920s as an all-white affair, in which Harlem is an exotic locale where occasionally white gangsters patronise the black performers of the Cotton Club, from which black audiences were specifically barred. Yet one of the principal sources of illegal revenue was the numbers racket in Harlem--gambling on stock market closing figures--revenue on which the likes of Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano were keen to lay their hands. Lawrence Fishburne is an impressive "Bumpy" Johnson, the street enforcer turned strategist for the matriarchal Queen (Cicely Tyson), gradually learning a ruthlessness that forfeits him the love of a good woman, Francine (Vanessa Williams). Tim Roth as Schultz and Andy Garcia as Luciano are essentially melodramatic turns--the foul-mouthed punk and the reptilian smoothy--and both turn in enjoyably full-blooded unsubtle performances. --Roz Kaveney