The jungle is decidedly present but the fever is notably missing in Spike Lee’s exploration of racial tensions in urban America. Lee tackles the subject of interracial romance from the unavoidable vantage point that, while things today are more open, they are also considerably more volatile and complex.
Little time is actually spent with the black man and white woman whose relationship is the core of the drama. Steering clear of conventional romantic scenes once the couple gets together, Lee instead uses the affair to detonate dozens of reactive sequences, showing how the blacks and Italians close to the principals deal with the developments.
Given the violent emotions triggered in others, it would have helped to see more of Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) and Angie Tucci’s (Annabella Sciorra) feelings about each other as the surrounding fireworks go off.
Flipper is unceremoniously kicked out his Harlem apartment and forced to move back in with his father (Ossie Davis), an ultra-righteous ex-preacher, and kindly mother (Ruby Dee). Angie is brutally beaten by her father and sent packing to a girlfriend’s.
Performances are all pointed and emotionally edgy. Film feels too long, but it ends powerfully, as the audience exits with the view that both the white and black communities are deeply troubled and have a very long way to go to resolve their differences.