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USA 1991
Directed by
Spike Lee
132 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Jungle Fever

It's back to the 'hood as Lee continues to explore some of the issues of his 1989 break-out hit, Do The Right Thing (there is a self-referential scene in Pauly's shop in which a character in the background is reading a paper with "Doin' The Right Thing" as a headline whilst some of the players from that film reappear here), notably white-black, and specifically, Italo-American/African-American relations and mixing it with another of his favourite concerns, families in upheaval, in a typically well-crafted although somewhat overlong comedy-drama.

Wesley Snipes plays Flipper, a well-to-do, married African-American Harlem-dwelliing architect who in a fit of “jungle fever” starts an affair with Angie (Annabella Sciorra), an Italo-American office temp from Bensonhurst.  His African-American but mixed race wife, Drew (Lonette McKee), finds out and Flipper is cast out of the family home whilst Angie leaves hers after a savage beating from her father (Frank Vincent).

Lee uses this set-up to articulate his ideas about racial stereotyping, the result being at times overly didactic and sucking any life out of the supposedly feverish affair.  Neither Flipper nor Angie seem particularly affected by their relationship which, according to Lee is based on a myth (although one might say all romances are based on a delusion). As it transpires, however, the affair doesn’t get a whole lot of screen-time (and a sub-plot about Flipper’s career completely evaporates) with Lee quietly re-affirming black solidarity (Drew cautiously takes Filpper back) but being less indulgent about women under Italo-American patriarchy (a humbled Angie returns to the family home).

The real fun of the film derives from Lee’s powers of observation and  the characters with whom he surrounds his protagonists:  Ossie Davis as Flipper’s self-righteous former preacher father, Flipper’s crackhead brother, Gator (a career-making performance from Samuel L. Jackson, while Halle Berry appears as his skanky girlfriend), John Turturro as Paulie, Angie’s steady but dull boyfriend, and Anthony Quinn as his overbearing father being only the most outstanding. Lee himself appears as Cyrus, Flipper's best friend and Queen Latifah makes her debut film appearance as a sassy waitress.

Some awful '90s wardrobe choices aside, the film is well-stocked with amusing and sometime tragic vignettes of everyday life (Drew and her girlfriends talking about black men an instance of the former, Flipper searching for his brother in a crackhouse, the latter), making it an entertaining film even if the central romance fails to provide much in the way of substance.




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