More noise than signal

Jungle Fever

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

This Spike Lee joint from 1991 finds us in New York’s five boroughs, with Wesley Snipes taking the role of architect and weird name haver Flipper Purify, angling for a promotion at the firm his work has made successful. He’s assigned a new temp worker, Annabella Sciorra’s Angie Tucci. He’d been angling for an African American co-worker, but this one example of his supposed under-appreciation has much wider ramifications than may be expected.

Before long he has embarked on an affair with Angie, soon to be found out by his wife, Lonette McKee’s Drew, leading to their breakup. It also causes Angie problems, both with her racist father and now ex-boyfriend, John Turturro’s Paulie. Further family drama from the Purify side of things come from Flipper’s ex-preacher father, played by Ossie Davis, and Samuel L. Jackson’s crack addicted elder brother, with everything getting rather messy over the months the film covers.

There’s a lot presented in Jungle Fever, but rather like the lives of the leads it’s messy and unfocused. It touches on racism, systemic and overtly personal, sexism, wider problems of drug addictions, wider social concerns, and just about anything that can affect any relationship. What it doesn’t do is build anything resembling of a narrative out of any of it, so while there’s nothing disagreeable here, and indeed there’s a number of fine performances (of which Snipes more than holds his own), but it does rather reduce to being a bunch of stuff that happens without much meaning. Unless, of course, you somehow haven’t already come to the conclusion that racism, drug addiction and cheating are bad things.

As we’ve discussed a few times recently I applaud the representation of these things, but I’m not 100% sure it does a lot for me. However, it’s not really for me, so perhaps my opinion on that side of things isn’t relevant.

I feel on surer ground covering some other aspects. If it wasn’t Spike Lee behind the camera there’s moments I’d call outright technically incompetent, but I think he’s proven himself enough to say instead they’re failed experiments. Like shooting a boardroom meeting early on as though it’s taking place on a roundabout, or that weird shot he’s doing when people are supposedly walking and talking, but they’re clearly being pulled along on a dolly so look like they’re floating. And the underscoring and soundtrack that stomps all over the dialogue. And that final shot, which I though had wandered in from a Mel Brooks parody.

It’s not bad, exactly, but everyone involved in front and behind the camera has done much better work.