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Jungle Fever

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 126 mins . M15+ . PAL


It seems that we reviewers get a slew of films from the same director like some bright spark at 'ACME Studios' decides to encode a back catalog. This time the director of the month is Spike Lee. You could do a thesis on Spike Lee. His movies have a central premise however this film is one that deserves a deeper examination than I have room for here. This is Wesley Snipes in a dramatic role (I am used to him beating the hell out of someone). He's Flipper, a strangely named Harlem architect who is the sole African American in an upper class firm. Tim Robbins and Brad Dourif are the partners in this architecture consultancy. He gets a new secretary in the form of Annabella Sciorra. She plays Angela Tucci, an attractive Italian American from a traditional patriarchal household. They have different backgrounds but they have much intellectually in common and they end up having an affair. Despite this film being about them, Spike Lee is more interested in examining the effect that this interracial affair has on Flipper's family; his half-white, half-black wife, his minister father and conservative mother and his older brother Gator. Strange names run in the family it seems. His brother is played by Samuel L. Jackson and he's a crack-addict and the cause of family problems. It is equally as bad for Angela's family who evict her after a beating.

The effect on their immediate friends and society at large whenever white-Angela and black-Flipper are out are immediately evident and sometimes dangerous.

I would note that this film is filled with cameos of distincton. Halle Berry plays Gator's crackwhore girlfriend. John Turturro, a Spike Lee regular is Angela's boyfriend. The Italians here are portrayed by the gammut of Italian American actors who would later star in dramas as diverse as 'NYPD Blue', 'The Sopranos' and more popular law series than I can name (David E. Kelley mostly). You can play 'spot the face' like I did. Spike Lee plays Flipper's best friend and it is these supporting players that tend to ask the questions that we the audience wish to know.

Spike Lee has a tendency to lace his films with some levity at the start and then while you laugh and get comfortable, he lays in the serious message (and moralising) towards the end. This is no different. Everybody is worse off because of this affair which is ostensibly a private matter. There is a certain hopelessness about the affair as it can certainly go nowhere.

Along the way, Spike Lee examines the mystique of interracial relationships and he paints both sides, Italian and African American with a very unflattering portrayal.


The anamorphic presentation tends to reflect its age and low budget origins. There is a constant patina that permeates the entire film. It's not sharp, the contrast is not there, black detail is mediocre (ie. blacks are grey) and whites tend to bloom. Colours tend to be drab but accurate. There are no glaring faults except for some noisiness but even for its age, it's not a great print. I had expected more faults however they are mercifully not present (there are a lot of opportunities for aliasing and other anomalies etc.)

The consistent haze thru then entire feature is grating however it'll tend to be ignored as you get into the story.


Dolby Stereo at 192k/s. Dialog heavy, reasonable music, almost no effects of any sort. It's a very clear track with good vocals except for times when the music tends to get a bit heavy. The accents also tend to intrude but not too much. Overall a quality track that is boosted by the strong Stevie Wonder score.


Limited. Very limited. Three trailers, one for the movie itself, 'Clockers' and 'Do The Right Thing'. Notice the recurring actors. There's also a roughly eight minute featurette that is of very marginal quality and typical of 'making of' specials.


If you have to have all his films, this is a good one. It's a strong drama and it has all of the strengths and weaknesses of a Spike Lee film. The DVD is a bit less impressive than I had expected but in a way, it's expected and even fits the era.

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      And I quote...
    "They both have jungle fever..."
    - Tony Lai
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