Harlem Nights (1989) Poster

(1989)

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5/10
Eddie Murphy write/direct/star but should drop 1st 2 jobs
SnoopyStyle13 August 2013
It's 1938 Harlem. Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor) owns the Club Sugar Ray. Vernest 'Quick' Brown (Eddie Murphy) is his longtime loyal protégé who runs the club. It's extremely successful and therefore comes to gangster Bugsy's radar. Bugsy sends his corrupt cop crony played by Danny Aiello.

Eddie Murphy writes/directs/stars in this movie with comedic icons Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx among others. It's too bad that this is filled with sad unfunny stereotypes. We have this group of massive comedic talents but they can't pull it off despite seeming to have a good time together. None of it is helped by the laughably simplistic scheme at the end. The fact that this tremendous group of talent was wasted is all the more reason why this is so disappointing.
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6/10
It isn't terrible at least
Quinoa19842 September 2000
Some might think that this effort from Eddie Murphy (who wrote, directed, executive produced and starred in) might not be up to his and the co-stars efforts. They might be a little right, but it isn't a waste to say the least. The talent is still vibrant even with a not too great script from Murphy including him, Richard Pryor (who gives his best, most recent performance to date), Redd Foxx (one of his last) and Danny Aiello. So sure it may be profane with a story that isn't too credible, but that's fine. Not great, but in truth, not to be missed either. B-
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7/10
After more than 20 years, I watched Harlem Nights for the first time and found it not as deserving of critical scorn as it got then
tavm19 February 2012
After about nearly 25 years of mostly hearing negative comments about this movie, I finally watched Harlem Nights on Netflix Streaming. My verdict: I thought it was funny enough even with all the killings, bombings, and other things considered too ugly for a comedy. Executive producer, director, writer, and star Eddie Murphy has made a pretty good period piece taking place in '30s Harlem and assembled what must have been a dream cast for him starting with his idol Richard Pryor, and then adding other legends like Redd Foxx and Della Reese. Together they run Club Sugar Ray with Pryor playing that club's owner, Murphy as adopted son Quick, Foxx as nearly blind Bennie Wilson, and Reese as madam Vera. Their enemies are such white figures like officer Phil Cantone (Danny Aiello) and gangster Bugsy Calhoune (Michael Lerner). In addition to them, other supporting players include Belinda Tolbert-best known as Jenny Willis Jefferson on "The Jeffersons"-as Sugar Ray's mistress Annie, Stan Shaw-like me, a Chicago native-as boxer Jack Jenkins (who has an amusing stutter), Jasmine Guy-who was playing Whitley Gilbert on "A Different World" at the time-as creole lady Dominque La Rue (whose character is from the state I now live in-Louisiana), Vic Polizos as Richie Vento, Lela Rochon-years before appearing in the blockbuster Waiting to Exhale-as Sunshine, Thomas Mikal Ford as Tommy Smalls, and Arsenio Hall as his brother though he's credited as Crying Man (and he's quite hilarious doing so!). Like I said, I thought the lines were funny enough and the profanities weren't as frequent as I thought but since I'm so used to these performers using them, I really didn't feel offended by them. So on that note, Harlem Nights gets a recommendation from me. P.S. Aiello's son Rick-who I found out also appeared with his father in Do the Right Thing as one of New York's finest-plays someone credited as only Man # 1 here. And how awesome to hear many Duke Ellington songs including the credit-ending "Drop Me Off in Harlem" with New Orleans' own Louis Armstrong.
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2/10
Unwatchable
Theo Robertson25 June 2003
I wasn`t expecting much with HARLEM NIGHTS but I wasn`t expecting it to be as bad as it was . Without doubt the worst aspect is the obscene language , it really is awful the amount there is in this film and before anyone accuses me of being a wimp let me point out two things...

1 ) Amongst my fave films I would include GOODFELLAHS , PLATOON , RAGING BULL while my favourite movie of all time is APOCALYPSE NOW

2 ) My all time favourite American television show is the HBO prison drama OZ

so you see films and television shows with massive amounts of swearing don`t normally bother me but the problem I had with HARLEM NIGHTS is to do with the fact it`s supposed to be a comedy but it seems the production team came to the conclusion that an audience laugh everytime someone ( Especially if that someone is black ) says a rude word and decided to subsitute funny situations with swearing all the way through the film hoping to get a laugh. Well I thought I`d never start laughing and I didn`t
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1/10
Dreadful movie
preppy-314 November 2008
This takes place in 1920s Harlem. A black owned nightclub has to deal with gangsters and corrupt policemen.

Terrible vanity project for Eddie Murphy. It tries to mix comedy and drama and fails at both. The comedy simply isn't funny and the drama is boring and badly acted. You think a film with three comedy legends--Eddie Murphy, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor--would be great but it isn't. There's nonstop swearing and the OPENING scene has a young boy shooting a man to death (this is shown as being OK). Also we have the beautiful Della Reese degraded into playing a madam. One of the "comedic" highlights has a long, unfunny and terribly vicious fight between her and Murphy. A boring, offensive and stupid mess. Not the worst Murphy movie but pretty close. A 1 all the way.
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8/10
Eddie Murphy at His Creative Best
view_and_review16 February 2020
In most big cities you can't run your criminal enterprise unmolested by other criminals. Sugar Ray's night spot for gambling, dancing, and sexing was doing a little too well for Bugsy Calhoun (Michael Lerner) to ignore. Bugsy pretty much ran Harlem and if Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor) was going to be successfully operating in Harlem then he was going to have to pay the piper. To say that Bugsy's "tax" was exorbitant would be putting it mildly. He wanted two-thirds of Ray's weekly take. That's when Sugar Ray and his adopted son Quick (Eddie Murphy) hatched a plan to get out of the business and get out of New York.

I have a far greater appreciation of Harlem Nights now as an adult than I did as a youngster. Back then I was just looking to laugh at the witty put downs Murphy, Foxx, and even Della Reese were all hurling at each other. Watching it again I have a better understanding of the overall plot and a better appreciation of it. This was written, produced, and directed by Eddie Murphy and I'd say he did an exceptional job. The laughs were aplenty and the plot was a smooth cohesive one. As a writer with a little over a half a dozen movies to his credit, only "Coming to America" was better. "Harlem Nights" was a real joy, Eddie Murphy at his creative best.
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5/10
I love the 1920s
HotToastyRag27 September 2021
If you're an Eddie Murphy fan, you might want to check out the one movie he directed: Harlem Nights. It was obviously a pet project for him, because his co-star was Richard Pryor, whom he cited as an idol who made him want to get into show business when he was younger. So how cute is that, that they got to act in a movie together?

This period piece takes place in the 1920s, so you'll get to see a lot of great costumes and hear some great music. I happen to love that time period, but make sure you like the violence-and-gangsters aspect of the '20s before renting it. It's not about flappers and silent pictures. In the supporting cast, you'll see Danny Aiello, Michael Learned, Della Reese, and Redd Fox. I prefer watching Eddie Murphy's Disney movies, but I did get a big kick out of seeing what he came up with when he sat in the director's chair.

Kiddy Warning: Obviously, you have control over your own children. However, due to language, I wouldn't let my kids watch it.
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3/10
i'll shoot your pinky toe off.....
FlashCallahan7 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Along with Battlefield Earth, this has to be one of the most notorious vanity projects out there. I've had the film in my possession a few times, and i decided this morning i would out myself out of my misery.

The opening credits say it all, When you see Murphys name come up at least five times, you know your going to be in trouble. And then there's the film. Both the leads look more and more lethargic as the film goes on. Pryor looks more and more disappointed, and Murphy spends the remainder of the film trying to cover his expanding waist (this was the start of his 'fat' years).

So thank heavens for Red Foxx and Vera who make the film an absolute delight whenever they are screen. Their banter is legendary, and shows that Murphy can write a decent line or two.

The story is the pits, and the rest of the film feels confused and tries to make excuses to make another derogatory remark to someone or another. I'm not offended by stuff like this, i just don't like it when the film is boring.

But more so, this is the film that ended Murphys reign as Hollywoods biggest comedic movie star. With the minor exception of Boomerang (which was deemed as a sort of comeback for him), he hasn't had a bona-fide hit since, which wasn't aimed at kids, or a remake of a classic film from yesteryear.

Which is a big accomplishment. And a big shame, because i liked the profane Murphy, with his silly laugh and incredible put downs.

Now we have to endure the Haunted Mansion with Pluto Nash. His films are not bad, but there no Axel Foley either.
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4/10
Loads of comedic talent and the film is a bore. It just makes no sense.
Aaron137510 September 2010
This film should have been the ultimate laugh riot. You had Eddie Murphy in the flick and though I am not his biggest fan there are times when he truly shines. Not only is he featured in this flick, but so too is Richard Pryor and I do enjoy Richard Pryor movie. To top it off you have Redd Foxx and he is an absolutely hysterical. You also have a cameo by Arsenio Hall who was at this time still relevant. With all these very funny people, why did I find myself bored to tears watching the movie? I can not answer, but suffice to say while not all bad and with a few chuckles here and there for the most part I was disappointed with this one. Seems Richard and Eddie just do not make a very good team as the two did not have a good chemistry together on the screen. I would much rather see Richard paired with Gene Wilder as they had great chemistry together. It is like Eddie and Arsenio, they actually seemed to be a rather good team as evidence by the success of "Coming to America" (though I did not care for that one much) and they also were part of one of the very few funny scenes in the movie. Redd Foxx is not featured nearly enough to really make an impact either positive or negative, but at this time he was close to having the heart attack that would end his life. When you look at the cover of this one and look at the stars you just know this film has to work. Alas, with the exception of a scene or two it does not.
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8/10
Should have been a classic Murphy from the start...
ElMaruecan8222 December 2017
I was a kid when I first saw "Harlem Nights" and I laughed my ass off. In fact, some moments made me lose it so much I had tears in my eyes and my stomach hurt.

It was the blessed time of the early 90's where every Saturday night, they aired a comedy, and since they were all from the 80's, I was familiar with John Candy, Matthew Broderick Dan Aykryod, Dudley Moore, Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor before all my current favorite (Nicholson, Hoffman, Pacino or De Niro). "Harlem Nights" was the typical movie they would air on Saturday and the premise of Murphy and Pryor sharing the screen together was a delight even for a kid who knew nothing about their stand-up background.

And I laughed, I laughed, I laughed... I'm not sure I got everything in the film but I could easily enjoy five 'serious' minutes by reminiscing about the funny scenes I saw before. And there weren't many serious five minutes anyway. Besides, after the unforgettable quarrel between Della Reese and Eddie Murphy and the hilarious cameo of Arsenio Hall as the crying man, the film could have been gone all Bergmanian at the end, I would have loved it all the same.

Speaking of Della Reese, it's her sad passing that encouraged me to give this film another look and I enjoyed it as I usually enjoy it whenever I watch it. I have seen many 80's classics before and I know some have aged pretty badly, check my review of "Like Father, Like Son" and "She's Out of Control", they were movies I enjoyed as a child but they're objectively bad. Still, I don't think I will ever be able to put "Harlem Nights" and 'bad' in the same sentence. And why should I?

You'll notice that many other reviews mention the critics, and praise the film even in a 'defensive' way, it's perhaps one of the most memorable things about it, its ill-reception. Both Ebert and Siskel found something unpleasant about Eddie Murphy's directorial debut, whether the use of profanity or that the film possesses the texture and costumes of the 30's gangster pictures without the substance... but then again, they complain about the lack of any juicy dialogue from masters of comedy Pryor or Foxx.

I won't be the critics of critics, but I think there was an overreaction as Eddie Murphy's then-popularity had raised more expectations than his film could have ever satisfied. Granted the film isn't "Trading Places" or "Coming to America", what was so blatantly bad about the screenplay or directing to deserve a Razzie nomination? The directing is 'nothing special' in the worst case and the bad writing maybe 'uninspired' at times, but I fail to see why Murphy was Razzie-nominated. Then again, even "Scarface" and "The Shining" were, which I think speaks for itself.

"Harlem Nights" is a nice, enjoyable movie where Eddie Murphy doesn't overplay his street-smart shtick, where Pryor is the nice guy and sometimes a touching father-figure who tries to keep things in control and Redd Foxx is the subject of a great running-gag involving his poor sight, his interactions with Della Reese are as enjoyable as Murphy's. In fact, they all have great chemistry all together. And for all its black casting, white actors also play funny and entertaining parts.

Michael Lerner steals the show as a believably intimidating mobster with then-"Different World" star Jasmine Guy as his mole. I reckon her character could have been more developed, but she inspired an interesting twist on the usual femme-fatale trope... and prevented the film from a predictable romantic subplot. And Danny Aiello plays with perfection the corrupt cop, his role seems limited, but he carries on with such arrogance and self-confidence we just love to hate him.

"Harlem Nights" has all the ingredients: cops, thugs, fixed gambling bets, boxing, music halls, heists but these are only decorative aspects, the film is more about relationships and interactions that go from funny to touching, from violent to... well, funny again. If the film isn't flawless, it never goes so bad it deserves to be bashed. I'm pretty sure the film will age better for those who didn't like it first.

In a way, maybe the fact that was so badly received will encourage people to watch it and say "hey, it's not so bad!" it's better than "not so bad", you better believe it. The film is a little cult classic not devoid of charm and it's certainly breathtaking if we speak about the way it makes you laugh. Murphy was so shocked by the reception he didn't want to watch it for a long time, if I could meet him, first thing I would tell him is that his movie was good and he's got nothing to be ashamed of.
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2 Of The Funniest Men Of The Decade Make An Unfunny Movie
slightlymad2222 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Harlem Nights (1989)

Plot In A Paragraph: During the 1930s, a New York City illegal gambling house owner and his associates must deal with strong competition, gangsters, and corrupt cops.

In Association with Eddie Murphy productions, A film by Eddie Murphy, Written by Eddie Murphy, starring Eddie Murphy. You do not have to look to far to see where the blame lies for this uninspired, cliche ridden and unfunny movie. Murphy has somehow made an unfunny movie, starring two of the funniest men of the 80's.

Unnecessarily full of swear words!! Especially "Motherf***er" it must have been close to 100, if not more!! Outside of the costumes, I can not find one positive for this movie.

Harlem Nights grossed $60 million to end 1986 as the 21st highest grossing movie of the year. Whilst the movie didn't bomb, it was a huge disappointment by Murphy's standards of the time.
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9/10
No one is perfect except for Superman.
John6Daniels13 January 2021
Baseball players hit 300 a game NBA dribblers will have many bad games Teachers will have shitty students and days Eddie will make some gold and then make some hash.

Harlem Nights is one of those outstanding movies from Eddie. It had legends and fun times. It didn't force itself to be fun. Harlem Nights and cast were fun.

It was about gamblers trying to make money.

Generally speaking this was a great movie to chill to after a long day.

Verdict: Mr. Sanford.
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9/10
Eddie's Best Movie!
damianphelps16 January 2021
Harlem Nights is a pure classic that will never age.

It is crazy funny right throughout the movie and its not just Eddie. One of the primary reasons this movie is so good is the fantastic job done by the rest of the cast. Prior Foxx and Reese are sublime.

I have watched this numerous times and each time I do I spend the next couple of hours walking around the house talking like Red Foxx hahaha.

Any idiot who complains about the swearing needs to STFU and look at whose is in it :)
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7/10
Comic actors playing serious roles.
PWNYCNY1 April 2015
This is a good movie, and for one reason: Danny Aiello. He carries the movie. The other characters are shallow two-dimensional facsimiles of gangsters. Aiello injects an element of reality into the story. His character is malevolent, and explains why his is angry: he observes all around him that crime pays off while he, a police officer, has nothing. This theme, that crime pays, pervades the entire movie. Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor are not properly casted for their roles as gangsters. They cannot transcend and suppress their comical natures. The problem is that their characters are not funny. Hence, their performances come off as phony. This is a problem for the comic actor: to be taken seriously when performing a dramatic part. Also, much of the acting is stagy, with the exception of Aiello's and Redd Foxx, who delivers a surprisingly serious and subdued performance in a supporting capacity. Yet, despite these shortcomings, the story is engaging and is worth watching.
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Harlem Nights
Coxer9923 June 1999
Flat comedy about the sting of a white mobster trying to take over a Harlem nightclub owned by Pryor in the 1930's. Runs in so many different directions that you lose track what the film is supposed to be; drama? crime? comedy? Aiello is the only bright spot in this all Murphy project who wrote, directed and starred.
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4/10
Murphy manages to capture the era well but other than that it's a total mess
jimbo-53-18651113 August 2016
Father and son team Sugar Ray (Richard Pryor) and Quick (Eddie Murphy) run a successful gambling establishment which in turn causes them to upset local mobster Bugsy Calhoune (Michael Lerner). Sugar Ray and Quick's lucrative business is netting them between $10,000 and $15,000 and upon learning this, Calhoune demands two thirds of their takings in order for Sugar and Quick to continue trading. Sugar and Quick refuse to give in to Calhoune's unreasonable demands and hatch a cunning plan to take down the notorious mobster.

Murphy has certainly put a lot of effort into giving this a 1920's/1930's feel to it; the set designs, vehicles etc all look pretty authentic. It's a shame really that he didn't put as much thought, care or effort into anything else in the film.

The first thing I noticed about this film is that Murphy never really seemed sure about what direction he wanted to take the film in; I initially thought that this was going to be some kind of parody of mob life and gangsters (the name Bugsy Calhoune is presumably a play on 'Bugsy Malone'), but aside from the amusing opening scene the film isn't actually very funny and a lot of the time it's far too serious for it to work as an out and out parody. The story in itself isn't a bad one, but Murphy offers very little in the way of tension; the idea of a mob boss who runs New York coming after two small-time business men should present an intimidating scenario, but Calhoune is not a particularly terrifying presence and even when he's supposed to be intimidating Sugar and Quick I never really felt scared for them.

The film also takes a very long time to get going and the first half of the film seems a little self-indulgent - there's a lot of fighting and squabbling and lots of things happening in the first half that do little to move things forward - I personally felt that a lot of these things were done for their amusement rather than ours).

I think the thing that probably ruined the film the most for me was Arsenio Hall; after putting in a great performance in Coming To America he literally puts in a 'nails on the chalkboard' performance in Harlem Nights. His whiny, irritating character and embarrassing overacting almost single-handedly ruined the film. It could also be argued that Murphy didn't get the best performance out of Richard Pryor either; Pryor is at his best when he's given a character to work with and when he's able to act daft, but Murphy has Pryor playing his character a little too straight and this also makes this a lesser film in my opinion. Like Pryor, Murphy underplays his character slightly and shows more restraint than we're used to seeing from him, but this also works slightly against the picture and results in it being more dull than it should have been. By contrast Danny Aiello probably gave the best performance and seemed to have fun, but without hamming it up.

The bottom line is that it falls short on laughs, the dramatic aspects don't work too well and the film lacks any real menace or intensity. Even if you're a fan of Pryor or Murphy I'd still suggest that you skip this one.
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5/10
Murphy fans sure to enjoy this
gcd7022 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Writer-director Eddie Murphy completed a dream when he finished "Harlem Nights", a film about Harlem in the 1930's, and starring his favourite stand-up comedian and hero, Richard Pryor.

Murphy plays Pryor's adopted son 'Quick', and together they run an after hours establishment which has been threatened by the local heavy who wants it shut down. This is no gangster film, and the thin plot doesn't allow for serious cinema. To his credit though, Mr. Murphy keeps proceedings light hearted, and produces some very funny scenes. Never a consistent movie, and full of Eddie's trademark foul language, this is one his fans are sure to enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 1992 - Video
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9/10
Harlem Nights is great!
dworldeater31 March 2020
From the 1st time I saw this as a young lad on it's intial run on HBO, I have always been a big fan of this picture. Harlem Nights is a prohibition era crime film that unites three generations of comedy legends in one film. With Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Red Foxx, this movie is very funny. But does not get in the way of telling the story and is a very good movie. Richard Pryor is very good in the more dramatic scenes as well and is a key player in making this work. This is however Eddie Murphy's baby and he started, produced and directed it and in my opinion, Harlem Nights is great. Compared to some of the other prohibition era comedies that came out 8n the 80's, Harlem Nights is by far the best of the lot. Especially if you compare this to the slapstick happy Johnny Dangerously or the failed City Heat. Harlem Nights is much better and balances the comedy and drama much better than those other films. Harlem Nights is very funny, but never comes off as stupid and is a great time at the movies. Absolutely a classic and underrated in my opinion.
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6/10
Unique movie directed by Murphy: good visual, substantive problems
guisreis30 December 2020
Visually, the film is great (art direction, cienematography, sets...) but, unfortunately, script is somewhat messy. The absence of blood in some situations is also weird: you only bleed after suffering the fourth shot (not after the first three shots) and, when someone punches your face, you only bleed if you are on the ring and not in an alley.
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8/10
An excellent story line and cool reality
PredragReviews6 April 2017
Both Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx are not with us anymore, but this is here. This film shows us the comedic talent of both these men, and to have stars like Eddie Murphy, Danny Aiello, and Della Reese is delicious icing on the cake. Pryor as Sugar Ray and Murphey as Quick try to keep a vicious mobster from taking over their business. As you might think, they turn the tables on the bad buys! Jasmine Guy stands out particularly as the mobster's girlfriend, and so does Della Resse as the hard-fighting madam with a heart of gold.

The style and feel of the film is perfectly evocative of the thirties, and although the plot is rather derivative, its pulled together by a great supporting cast including Redd Foxx, Charlie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. The one major flaw is that Richard Pryor is miscast as the straight guy to Eddies hot headed youngster, but on the other hand it shows he could play more subtle roles if needed.

Overall rating: 8 out of 10.
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8/10
Very underrated!
gangstahippie9 August 2007
Rated R for Strong Language,Sexual Content and Violence. Quebec Rating:13+ Canadian Home Video Rating:18A

Harlem Nights is the first and only film that Eddie Murphy both directed and starred.I heard that the film was bad.It got some Razzie nominations and it has a low score on IMDb.I watched the film about two years ago and I could not find anything bad about it.I have seen plenty of Eddie Murphy films and he is a very funny actor.I think this is one of his best films actually.The film also stars Richard Pryor,Redd Foxx and Della Reese with a small appearance by Arsenio Hall.The film is basically about some casino owners in 1930's harlem who must face policemen and a gangster.Harlem Nights is funny, entertaining and very underrated.Worth watching!
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8/10
Surprisingly Vibrant
bkrauser-81-3110646 December 2016
Harlem Nights is an ostentatious late-eighties crime comedy written and directed by the affable Eddie Murphy during the apex of his career. The film details the rags-to-riches rise of a crime boss named Sugar Ray (Pryor) and his high swinging Harlem jazz club during the 1920's and 30's. Branding himself as a bit of a bon vivant, Ray willingly embraces illegal hooch, prostitution and gambling. To help him, he takes the young Quick (Murphy), a street tough-turned second-in-command, under his wing. Unfortunately years of easy success brings un-welcomed competition from New York mafia head Bugsy Calhoune (Lerner) and envious scorn from corrupt cops and the white establishment at- large.

The plot then hinges on what the denizens of Harlem's bootlegger class will ultimately do to save face. Ray, a fair-minded and uncommonly cautious miscreant wants to gather his chips and skip town while Quick is itching for a fight. Much of the film's moral messaging is dropped in the fast-paced conversations between Ray and Quick - Ray of course being the voice of reason. "What are they gonna put on your tombstone? 'Here lies a man, 27 years old. He died, but he ain't no punk.' Hey man, that's bulls**t." Ray's words tower over the movie like a totem.

The mood of Harlem Nights veers wildly from low-brow comedy to a fiery mobster film, even within the same scene. All the while, Eddie Murphy's motor-mouth delivery, Richard Pryor's innocuous bumbling and the gruff inclusion of Red Foxx, keeps the seams of this film from popping open with reckless abandon. It's an uneasy mix. One which nearly breaks its ability to transport in tone-deaf scenes that include Arsenio Hall as a bereaved hood and Della Reese as Sugar Ray's resident madam. It's easy to see why Harlem Nights was initially panned given three generations of comedic giants are on screen yet none go for the big titters.

Yet what Harlem Nights accomplishes goes beyond a cursory look at the film's rocky production history (rumor is Pryor and Murphy did not get along). With this film comes a time capsule - a lovingly developed recreation of the Harlem Renaissance as told by those who have a stake in seeing that period on the big screen. Being enveloped by Harlem Nights means visiting the busy epicenter of a foreign country that no longer exists. It's overwhelming, jarring and even a little scary but you can't deny its vibrancy.

Thus the language may be a little blue, but it does come with unfettered urgency. The humor may be too broad and mean but it dozily leans on some incredibly lush world-building. There are no big comedic payoffs in the traditional sense, but there is a heart to this picture that channels the oral-history, stubborn divergence and tumult of the Harlem Renaissance. Surely we can give a film a second chance based on that alone, cant we?
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4/10
Laborious with brief reasons to chortle
shakercoola21 July 2018
An American crime comedy; A story Crime set in 1930s New York about a successful Harlem nightclub owner and his adopted son, who are threatened by a sinister Sergeant who attempts to muscle in on the business. Several times the viewer will be well ahead of the plot in this story. Murphy's direction stretches the story out on his presumption that the audience is enjoying the splenderous set decor and costumes. It is without doubt sumptuous, and the fast-talking insult comedy can be very funny at times, but the overall delivery is quite contemporary, which reduce the illusion of a 1930s setting. The plot and story are uninspiring and the audience may wonder when the comedians are going to spark up. They don't. The ending is far-fetched and overall it lacks fun.
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10/10
Three comic legends in a great film
DunnDeeDaGreat28 March 2002
Harlem Nights is a great that stars the funniest three black comics to ever grace a comdey stage. Eddie Murphy knew what he was doing when he decided to cast Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor in the other two male leads. The film has great one-liners and a amusing fight scene between Eddie and Della Reese. If you've never seen this film, you're in for a treat.
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No rose for this garish "Harlem"...
Mister-616 January 2000
Eddie Murphy has his good days and his bad days.

On his good days, he can make the stoniest of faces laugh with his effortless charm and command of comedic timing ("48 Hrs.", "Trading Places", "The Nutty Professor").

And as for his bad days...they're perfectly embodied by "Harlem Nights".

You can tell this is a vanity project from about twenty miles off. This guy did practically everything but brew coffee on the set (as least he didn't sing on the soundtrack. Thanks, Eddie.) I mean, here he had a chance (as writer and director) to do something really sharp, funny and charming. Instead, he does a black version of "The Sting" in which Della Reese gets shot in the foot, people get murdered right and left, the main bad guys are ALL white and the funniest comics on the planet (Pryor and Foxx) are turned into straight men in Eddie's one-man show.

And here's the weird part: this is SUPPOSED to be a comedy. A COMEDY (you know - ha ha ha, yuk-yuk-yuk, lotsa laughs?). So, why are the "big" moments in this film all DRAMA? That's right; they play it straight, as if the story was a companion piece to all the Warner Brothers single reelers from the '30s with Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney. It's stupefying. Really.

Actually, a spoof of those kinds of movies would be fun to see, especially with a cast like this one offers. Unfortunately, Eddie realized this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to show the world that he was the real deal, so to speak. So instead of focusing on a project that would deliver major laughs, he instead lumped together a plot full of murder, deceit, robbery, double-crosses and femme fatales that would of wowed the execs back in 1932.

Any good parts? Two - Arsenio Hall as "The Crying Man" (that's how he's billed) has the best role as a man out for Eddie's blood when he thinks Eddie killed his brother. Now THAT scene is exciting and funny, Hall's extended crying jag throughout is a riot and if for nothing else, you HAVE to see how the shootout between them ends. Hall's best line - "Oh, REALLY??!?!"

And the other good part is Aiello as crooked cop Phil Cantone. He actually bothers to put in a performance, in spite of everything. As a jovial frontman for crime boss Bugsy (?) Calhoune (Lerner), he is smiling one minute, frothing the next. Unfortunately, so little is done with his character that he's sorely missed for entertainment value when he's not on-screen, which is too often for me.

But what about the star/writer/director? Eddie is really kind of bland here. No, strike that: REALLY bland. He shows no sense of humor, no charisma, zero interest in the proceedings and hardly changes his expression throughout the whole film - kind of a bored, distracted look. Maybe he was wondering if he was getting enough screen time?

As for the rest, it's a pretty package with next to nothing inside the box. Eddie's smarter than this, he knows what's funny, and it certainly isn't "Harlem Nights". What was he thinking? Certainly not about a sequel.

I hope.

One star, for Hall's and Aiello's contributions. And as for Eddie - stay in front of the camera, will ya?
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