The white-run Mafia and the black-run numbers game meet head on with explosive impact in this period crime thriller. Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) is an African-American ex-con who, after a stay in prison, returns to Harlem at the height of its renaissance before World War II. Looking for work, Bumpy becomes a lieutenant for Stephanie St. Clair (Cicely Tyson), the queen of Harlem's numbers racket. Bumpy's old friend Illinois Gordon (Chi McBride) gently expresses his concern about Bumpy's life of crime, and social worker Francine Hughes (Vanessa L. Williams), who is attracted to Bumpy (and vice versa), suggests he should be doing something more positive with his life. But Bumpy contends that the numbers game is the only business in the community that blacks are able to control themselves. The numbers game is very profitable -- enough so that mob boss "Lucky" Luciano (Andy Garcia) wants in on the action. He assigns one of his key men, "Dutch" Schultz (Tim Roth), to try to strike a deal with Stephanie, but negotiation isn't Dutch's strong suit -- he finds that murder is a far more effective tactic in taking control of a business, and Dutch is not the sort of person who's bothered by violence. Hoodlum was director Bill Duke's second film set in the milieu of the Gangster days of the 1920s and 1930s, after his breakthrough picture A Rage in Harlem.
by Sandra Brennan synopsis