Opened: February 1994 | Rated: R
It seems that not even a month passes between Wesley Snipes movies anymore, yet somehow he doesn't get tiresome.
The latest is "Sugar Hill" opening today, and the range Snipes is capable of comes through in this story of two brothers who watched their mother die of a heroin overdose, and grew up to become dealers of the drug that killed her.
It's another brooding gangster roll for Snipes, again with the custom suits and the shiny gun. But this is a drug dealer with depth.
Roemello (Snipes) watched his mother die of a heroin overdose as a child and grows up to become the neighborhood dealer of the same drug, along with his brother Raynathan (Michael Wright).
The irony tears at him until he decides to leave Harlem and leave the business after falling in love with a girl he met at a club (Theresa Randle). Strangely, the girl isn't in most of the movie, leaving a gap in the credibility of the love story.
Without him Raynanthan doesn't think he can keep the neighborhood under his control. A crack dealer wants to share their territory so a turf war is on the horizon, and without Roemello's cool business head, war would be inevitable.
This insight into the psyche of the characters pushes "Sugar Hill" beyond the genre boundaries established by "New Jack City" and "Juice."
The violence is graphic and real in this picture, but it is not as important to the story as in earlier movies, and is secondary to the characters.
Some of the more violent scenes are punctuated by the loud Jazz trumpet that has become cliche, but the use of Jazz is one of the things that sets the movie apart from other modern urban crime films. It's long on Jazz, and short on rap.
The Harlem in "Sugar Hill" is a harsh reality surrounded by the dreams of idealism. On the wall of the grocery store that the local kingpin (Abe Vigoda) owns is a mural of Venice, where he would rather be. Photos of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. hang on the walls in Roemello's father's and girlfriend's apartments.
Orange lighting is used in almost every scene and it looks as if the sun is always going down in Roemello's life. When a real sunset finally casts a glow across Harlem, you know that everything will come to a head when morning comes in the next scene.
The end of the movie, an epilogue, seems somewhat like an afterthought. The scene before has such closing to it that it's obvious either a studio head or a test audience didn't like it the way it was, so they tacked on one more scene.
But again it worked, mainly because the "new" ending sets "Sugar Hill" apart from the rest of the street movie/drug dealer genre.
"Sugar Hill" rings true because the characters seem like people anyone could know. There is a connection with the audience because the characters are not strictly heros or villains.
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