On the whole, director Bill Duke's talk-heavy Hoodlum isn't an entirely exciting gangster flick. It's far too concerned with expository conversations and wrongfully impartial to action, relying on its game cast to carry the whole weight. Fortunately, Laurence Fishburne brought his A-game as Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson.
Running things in Harlem, Johnson started off working under illegal lottery (or "numbers") impresario Madame Stephanie St. Clair, earning the neighborhood's respect at the young age of 27 by conducting fruitful, cordial business with the Italian Mafia. In Hoodlum, Fishburne portrays Johnson during his rise to infamy under the guidance St. Claire (Cicely Tyson) and against opposition from aspiring racketeers Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia) and Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth).
Fishburne's performance is all in-command coolness, with Johnson making a name for himself by keeping a level head and besting foes with smarts more so than brawn.