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It's been branded with the "blaxploitation" label, but there is little that's exploitative in J.D.'s Revenge, a film of well-drawn, articulate characters dragged into a supernatural showdown.
Glynn Turman (Cooley High) is especially fine as the sensitive and quiet Ike, a determined student moonlighting as a cab driver, so wound up he's on the verge of cracking.
Enter (literally) the ghost of J.D., a violent, vengeful gangster murdered in the opening moments. He could be Ike's own Mr. Hyde, a dapper, flamboyant ladykiller with a fiery temper and a straight razor who slowly smothers Ike's easygoing personality.
Driven by flashes of memory, he sets his vengeful sights on fire-and-brimstone preacher Reverend Bliss (Louis Gossett Jr.), whose dark past is intricately tied up with J.D.'s murder.
Director Arthur Marks (Detroit 9000) sidesteps the usual spooky clichés to stir up a modern New Orleans gumbo of ghost story, gangster tale, and character drama. J.D. is both devilish sadist and avenging angel, while the tortured Ike awakens from J.D.'s violent rampages with a hole in his memory but a sick feeling from his imagined complicity in the crimes.
The story gets wrapped up a little too neatly in the end, but the dark character shadings and the evocative mystery at the center of Ike's possession makes J.D.'s Revenge an unexpectedly compelling supernatural thriller.
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