A soufflé that wasn’t kept in the oven long enough to rise, the blaxploitation period drama Book of Numbers suffers from choppy storytelling, erratic acting, and a general lack of narrative focus. The only movie directed by versatile African-American actor Raymond St. Jacques, who plays a supporting role even though he’s billed as the lead, Book of Numbers is a discombobulated movie that appears to have been cobbled together from incomplete principal photography and then infused with lengthy passages of voiceover that explain the plot. Based on a novel by Robert Deane Pharr, the picture is set in Depression-era Arkansas. Fast-talking young hustler Dave (Philip Michael Thomas) and his middle-aged friend, Blueboy (St. Jacques), quit their jobs as waiters in order to become bookies in a small black community. Their encroachment into lucrative terrain angers a white gangster, who sends thugs to harass Dave and Blueboy. Meanwhile, Dave romances pretty Kelly Simms (played by “Band of Gold” singer Freda Payne). Violent confrontations ensue, leading inevitably to tragedy. Even though Book of Numbers is only 81 minutes long, some pointless scenes stretch on to interminable lengths, notably a music-driven church service. St. Jacques the director also squanders St. Jacques the actor, giving all the juiciest material to Thomas, later of Miami Vice fame. Although Thomas attacks his role vigorously, he comes across as more arrogant than empathetic. As such, it’s nearly impossible to care what happens, even on the rare occasions when the story temporarily achieves clarity and momentum. Oh, and word to the wise—the most widely available video master of this movie is ghastly, with atrocious image reproduction and muddy sound. Better presentation would improve the experience, but the catastrophic narrative problems would still be present.
Book of Numbers: LAME