"A Rage In Harlem" is a wild ride with eccentric characters to spare (all played by a top-notch cast) and lots of sly humor in its story of a hunt for gold in 1950s Harlem as created by Chester Himes, author of "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and "Come Back, Charleston Blue," which became films in the early '70s. (Those movies were about the exploits of a pair of maverick cops called Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, who are relegated to minor characters here.)
"A Rage in Harlem" begins in Mississippi with a shootout over a cache of gold. But before the shooting stops, the sultry Imabelle (Robin Givens) makes off with the treasure, heading for Harlem where she hopes to have a gangster named Easy Money (Danny Glover) trade it for currency.
But since Imabelle has no money when she gets there, she links up with Jackson, a shy but amiable mortician. Wearing a red dress that clings to her like Saran Wrap, Imabelle sets out to seduce Jackson so she can use his apartment for a night. Of course, Jackson falls head over heels for her and she is, in turn, intrigued by his innocence.
So, when Imabelle is kidnapped by her old boyfriend (Badja Djola), who wants his gold back, it's Jackson to the rescue along with his estranged con-artist brother, Goldy (Gregory Hines).
Much of this is fast and funny and more than a little violent. The entire cast is excellent, but, as you may have already read, it is Givens who runs away with the picture in a knockout, scene-stealing, starmaking performance in her first film.
So, it's all the more unfortunate that the film suffers gaps in logic and has more than its share of technical glitches. And Duke is not above belaboring his R-rated excesses (and he seems to have a strange fetish for tongues).
Still, it's better than most of what we see in this genre these days.
"A Rage in Harlem" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.