Jungle Fever

1991, Movie, R, 132 mins


Another polemical film about contemporary race relations from writer-director Spike Lee, JUNGLE FEVER offers a host of well-acted, thought-provoking dramatic situations, wrapped in one mess of a story.

Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) is a black urban professional, a New York architect with a promising future and a devoted family. Out of sexual curiousity, he and Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), an Italian-American office temp, begin an affair which causes or exacerbates a number of domestic and social conflicts in their neighborhoods. Flipper confides in his friend Cyrus (Spike Lee) about his fling and the news soon reaches Flipper's wife Drew (Lonette McKee), who angrily throws him out of the house. Angie remains more discreet, but her territorial father and brothers find out about her affair and violently abuse her for dating outside her race, ethnic group and neighborhood.

Meanwhile, other problems develop for those around Flipper and Angie. Flipper's crack-addicted brother, Gator (Samuel L. Jackson), continually hustles him for money. Their parents suffer both sons: the puritanical father, the "Good Reverend" (Ossie Davis), harshly condemns both Flipper's infidelity and Gator's drug dealing. Gator continually returns to his forgiving mother for money, but when she runs out of it he attacks her. The good reverend shoots him dead. Across town Angie's father is trying to match his daughter to an Italian boyfriend, Paulie Carbone (John Turturro). The tender-hearted Paulie, however, has a crush on a black woman who patronizes his news stand. Angie and Paulie commiserate about the abuse they have to endure in seeing life beyond the confines of their Bensonhurst neighborhood.

Ironically, JUNGLE FEVER's central relationship--between the uppish buppie and the self-reliant, working-class white girl--may be the least interesting one. Flipper and Angie only have "jungle fever," a passing curiosity piqued by society's long-held sexual myths about race. Though Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra perform well, the script provides no deeper motivations or meanings for their relationship. Situations around them prove more interesting and dynamic.

Samuel L. Jackson steals several scenes as the jive-talking, dancing-for-drugs crackhead brother. His dramatic family confrontations provide the movie's real emotional intensity. By comparison, the arguments between Flipper and Drew come across as melodramatic. Yet the film's most subtle, sympathetic interplay happens across the tracks, through the eyes of the gentle Paulie. Although tied down by his possessive father and harassed by his belligerent neighbors, he is the one who sees and loves people regardless of their race, class or color. John Turturro's portrayal of the kind-hearted kid from Brooklyn is a pleasant, surprising follow-up to his role as the bitter young racist in Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING. leave a comment

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