In this predictable plot a pair of brothers find their pitch in the 'hood endangered by a rival gang. Whilst one wants to confront the rival, the other wants to quite the game and make an honest buck. When their best friend is killed they are forced to make some tough decisions about loyalties.
For an on-street gangster movie, this comes with a lot of baggage as it tries to echo sundry Biblical or Shakespearean tragedies while examining the dilemmas of the black man in America. Haunted by a mother who overdosed and a crippled junkie dad, Roemello Skugg (Snipes) and his brother Raynathan (Wright) have become Harlem druglords. The pugnacious Raynathan is all for starting a war to protect their turf from interloping Lolly (Ernie Hudson) and his mafia backers, but Roemello wants to quit the business and the city and retire to North Carolina.
Naturally, Lolly deep-fries the Skuggs brothers' Best Mate, exciting Raynathan to urge for some vengeance action. Roemello, the Hamlet of Harlem, broods more and more, hoping not to be around for the inevitable shoot-out finale. Undoubtedly sincere, this bends over so far backwards to avoid traditional gangster thrills it winds up a fairly boring movie with a hero whose admirable wish to get out of the drugs business unfortunately does not make for much exciting conflict.
This has the evocatively gritty New York feel, and thanks to some moody jazz trumpet and flavourful Afro-American patter sounds like Spike Lee doing a Bogart-Cagney act. The script, however, is so contemplative that it frequently turns rather giggly, and this is a crime movie in which gangsters can't kill each other, cut a drugs deal or take an overdose without first tearfully delivering a five-minute speech about how much better things were in the old days.
Sugar Hill wants to be very different to the other 'Boyz in the Hood' style films by using a second rate Spike Lee approach but sadly it doesn't make the film any better, only highlighting its failures. With the market heavily saturated with these 'hood' gangster films, this fails to stand out.