A potentially powerful melodrama, “Jungle Fever” is a thematic follow-up to Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” in 1989. The feature examines the tragic consequences of interracial relationship, as a pair is driven apart by the pressures of race, class, and family.
Wesley Snipes is well cast as Flipper Purify, a successful black architect enmeshed in an extramarital romance with his working-class, Italian-American secretary (played by Annabella Sciorra). When the interracial romance is discovered, their families and friends shun the pair, reacting with anger, contempt and disgust.
What begins as a close, critical chronicle of an interracial romance soon turns into a communal event. The central love story gradually gets lost in the maze, indicating that for Lee the scandalous reaction to the affair is more important than the event itself.
Lee has said that the movie is a personal one (his father has been married to a white woman), but in trying to be fair to all parties involved, he loses sight of what attracts the lovers to each other in the first place.
Too bad: What could have been a welcome update of the naïve, preachy, disingenuous treatment of interracial romances in Hollywood films of yesteryear (such as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”) becomes a platform of ideas rather than feelings and sentiments.
The cast includes Ossie Davis as Flipper’s preacher father, Ruby Dee as his mother, Samuel L. Jackson as his violent, drug-addicted brother, Lonette McKee as his loving wife, John Turturro as Angie’s Italian-American lover Paulie, and Anthony Quinn as Torturro’s father.
For his realistic and powerful performance, Samuel L. Jackson was honored with an acting kudo at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.