Xavier Quinn (Denzel Washington) is the police chief on this Caribbean island, well-liked but perhaps not receiving as much respect as he thinks is due to him. He has been friends with Maubee (Robert Townsend) since childhood, but they have taken different paths through life, Quinn becoming an upstanding member of the community and family man married to Lola (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Maubee turning to shadier dealings to get by. Today they almost run into each other on the road the cop is driving along to reach a mansion where he has just heard there has been a murder, but did his old pal have anything to do with it?
That's the central mystery here, though you can tell there's more than meets the eye when the owner of the mansion where the headless body was found (with the head separate) who claims Maubee is the culprit is played by James Fox. I know, it's hard to believe that a Hollywood movie would feature a posh Englishman as a villain, but here it is, and that point is underlined when Mr Elgin (Fox) puts his wife Hadley (Mimi Rogers) in her place by giving her a slap, right in front of the Chief. Our hero is not prepared to allow the moneyed classes to run rings around him, but there are more villains than that who have a finger in this pie.
In fact, there was a conspiracy tone to the plot which was far from overemphasised but nevertheless spoke to the eighties suspicions about the secret services and how they were as much the bad guys as those they were trying to bring to justice. However, for the most part you would be less likely to be caught up with that and more likely to be thinking if Denzel wouldn't have been better with a dialect coach, because to call his Caribbean accent wavering would be a distinct understatement. Nothing wrong with him in performance terms otherwise, he captured something of that famously laid back part of the world in his interpretation even as the Chief was growing more serious, but sheesh, those inflections.
Townsend was a little better, though given he was playing some kind of pixie who seems to live some kind of magical existence then he could pretty much speak how he wanted to if his character was living outside normal society: it would offer his acting a veneer of slightly otherworldly wisdom and a trickster sensibility. Of course, this also meant he wasn't actually in the movie very much, and being an interesting presence you did miss him when the narrative meandered at best as Washington negotiated the various colourful personalities who he came into contact with in his investigations, including reggae singers (who perform a customised version of the Bob Dylan title track) and a voodoo priestess (Esther Rolle) who threatens everyone who crosses her with a curse.
Perhaps the most vivid portrayal, certainly among the more devious souls in the film, was M. Emmet Walsh as an apparent photographer who reveals himself as knowing far more about the solution to the mystery than Quinn has realised, but then he was a past master at scummy bad guys by this stage and appeared well aware what he had been hired to do, filling that role admirably. Or not, he didn't play a very nice man. You know what I mean. As for Rogers, she would appear to be the leading lady, but actually had very little do, and even less when the kissing scene between her and Washington was edited out after audiences of both the actors' races complained, which is kind of dispiriting, not least because it might have lent the proceedings a bigger charge than was on the table. As it was, what you got was a fairly run of the mill thriller which was only memorable because of its setting on a sun-soaked island community, which wasn't even named as Jamaica in the film. Oh, and it was nice to see Norman Beaton as a cantankerous official, but that was about it. Music by Anne Dudley.