Denzel Washington is Bleek Gilliam, a trumpeter from Brooklyn, New York. He plays with his band, including his egotistic saxophonist Shadow (Wesley Snipes), and has to deal with his gambling-addicted manager Giant (Spike Lee). In addition he faces the troubles of his promiscuous lifestyle as he juggles casual relationships with Clarke (Cynda Williams) and Indigo (Joie Lee).
While this film is conventional in its story, what makes it good is the way it is told, with Lee’s well-established visual flair, and cool, smooth jazz music. It’s not a million miles away from Roddy Doyle music movie The Commitments as the band members fight and egos are bruised, but with jazz in place of the Mustang Sally.
It packs in an impressive cast, including Samuel L. Jackson in a small role and a brief reference to his character of Mister Señor Lovedaddy from Do The Right Thing, made the previous year. Washington is outstanding, and Lee gives another solid performance, this time as a thirtysomething just two years after he played a college freshman in School Daze, showing his versatility as an actor. Neither Washington nor Snipes could play their instruments, but it’s well enough done that you can’t tell, which really makes a difference.
This is a pleasant enough comedy drama with enough style to work. It may not be a revolution, but its musical numbers are better than School Daze, and it’s funnier too.