Rated: R for violence. Reviewed by: Frank Release date: February 25, 1994 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
Sugar Hill begins with two young brothers watching their mother go into convulsions and die from an overdose of heroin.
Director Leon Ichoso moves very slowly and is preachy at times, but he consistently hold the audience at a high level of anxiety throughout.
The nostalgia of Sugar Hill, a part of Harlem which was considered the Paris of the West, is long past and Ichoso blames drugs for the demise of the once art-filled, proud neighborhood.
Roemello Skuggs (Wesley Snipes) is one of the two boys who watched his mother die. He is bright and educated and he is a low-level drug dealer in Harlem. Both he and his brother Raynathan (Michael Wright) work for Gus Molino (Abe Vigoda) the man who shot their father years before. Roemello has continuing nightmares about his mother's death and the shooting of his father. There is no glorification of drugs. Roemello's father (Clarence Williams III) does little but flop around drinking and taking drugs. He is lost. Raynathan is also hooked and he lives on the edge all the time.
When Roemello meets Melissa (Theresa Randle) he decides it is time to get out. But he is stuck. How can he get out with his brother, father and Melissa?
Violence is liberally sprayed throughout and Roemello, who becomes a Godfather early in the film, could be compared to the young Michael Corleone, a good bad guy, and his brother is volatile like Sonny Corleone. The journey out of the morass is filled with barriers and tension. Few get out.
Snipes is again a strong force on the screen. He is handsome and interesting to watch. Michael Wright is brilliant as the shaky dangerous brother. When he enters a scene, the anxiety level immediately goes up.
A little shorter might have been better, some scenes are prolonged, but overall this is a find dramatic film with sterling performances.