June 17, 1991 12:00 PM

Annabella Sciorra, Wesley Snipes

Sciorra and Snipes are as expressive—certainly as physically expressive—as any actors. As a naive Italian-American woman and a sophisticated African-American man who fall into an affair, they use their eyes and hands and body language to reflect their curiosity, hesitation and passion. They beautifully evoke what happens when a social taboo complicates the most intimate aspects of two people’s lives.

As long as director Spike (Do the Right Thing) Lee focuses on their relationship, this is an engrossing film. But Lee keeps intruding on his own story.

He dwells on Snipes’s crackhead brother, and a useful digression—showing where Snipes, an architect, came from—turns into a movie all its own. While Samuel L. Jackson is brilliant—all nervy meanness—as the brother, his story is a distraction. Obtrusive, too, are all the Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra sound-track vocals.

Lee also includes two baffling sequences in which people walk down the street; shown only from the waist up, they move so smoothly, they seem to have wheels attached to their feet.

While Lee minimizes his onscreen time—he reads dialogue as well as Don Pardo—he does tell Snipes he and Sciorra are lovers because “both of youse got the fever—jungle fever,” a bit of truly irrelevant blather.

The other actors are superb, especially John Turturro as Sciorra’s white suitor, Lonette McKee as Snipes’s angry wife and Tyra Ferrell as a black woman whose tentative relationship with Turturro is neglected by Lee.

There’s visual eloquence—Lee is a master of street scenes—but the dialogue is sterile. (Snipes, lecturing his mother about his brother, says, “Forget about Gator. He’s only going to break your heart.”) The ending too neatly ties up all the subplots.

You’ll remember Sciorra and Snipes but wish you had learned more about them—and the society that complicates their lives so cruelly. (R)

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