Picks and Pans Review: Harlem Nights

updated 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor

The Last thing anyone would have expected from the first film directed by Eddie Murphy is this tame, play-it-very-safe variation on The Sting.

Pryor, who couldn't seem more subdued if a net were thrown over him, plays a Harlem candy-store owner who expands his backroom card game into a modest after-hours club. While this is going on, in the '30s, Murphy is growing into a young man who becomes Pryor's partner.

Nothing is very offensive, including the modest violence, none of it graphic by modern standards. What this film suffers from is lack of fun.

Murphy's script gets his character and Pryor in a minor gang war with a mobster Pryor calls a "big, fat, greasy, bloated, fat, 12-sand wich-eating bastard." Danny Aiello is a corrupt cop, Redd Foxx a hanger-on, Della Reese a madame. Stan Shaw makes an impact as a boxer (though there are too many jokes based on his stutter); Jasmine (TV's A Different World) Guy is the mobster's slinky lady friend.

The sting at the end is (1) obvious and (2) not very amusing. Murphy seems to be pussyfooting; what he ended up with was essentially a dull cartoon—with an R rating for bad language. (R)

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