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Undercover Brother

(2002) *** Pg-13
83 min. Universal. Director: Malcolm D. Lee. Cast: Eddie Griffin, Chris Kattan, Denise Richards, Aunjanue Ellis, Dave Chappelle.

Undercover Brother--Malcolm D. Lee's blaxploitation spoof--may not be wholly original and it's definitely not politically correct. But it is fast and funny, which qualifies it as sterling summer entertainment.

For starters, it's nice to see that Eddie Griffin has finally found a vehicle which showcases his talent and leaves his dignity intact. As the title character at the heart of what looks to be a low-concept franchise for Universal (essentially, he's a black Austin Powers), Griffin gets to pull both the requisite Superfly shtick and the undercover guise of a black guy whose to put this delicately...pales in comparison.

Undercover Brother takes off from writer John Ridley's popular internet series, with its inexplicably retro hero. What doesn't come from Shaft or James Bond comes by way of Get Smart, with goofy gadgetry, bumbling exploits, a sexy and competent sidekick (Aunjanue Ellis's "Sistah Girl"), and a harried "Chief" (Boston Public's slow-burning Chi McBride). Lee thoroughly exploits the willfully lazy plot--Undercover Brother must stop "The Man" from eliminating black culture--to take potshots at a mountain of cultural icons. Most prominently, "The Man"'s scheme involves a Manchurian Candidate scheme to brainwash a Colin Powell-esque general, played by (funky drum riff, please) Billy Dee Williams.

And in case that doesn't impress you (whattayou, made of stone?), how about James Brown in full fancydancing mode? Okay, how about Denise Richards as the passive-agressive white-girl bait, looking like she embezzled her costumes and props from the last Bond movie. Or former Doogie Howser, M.D. Neil Patrick Harris as the only white guy in the spy B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. (thanks to affirmative action). Perhaps you'd prefer Dave Chapelle as pot-advocate "Conspiracy Brother" or Chris Kattan as the evil Mr. Feather. Starting to get the idea? For every gag you find tired or musty, in all likelihood, three will rise up to get you.

Despite attempts to dress it up as satire, it's basically as stupid as it looks (and besides, hasn't "Def Comedy Jam" definitively deconstructed the "differences" between black and white people?). And yet, with eye-popping production design, shameless volleys of Mel Brooks-like gags, and hospital-corner direction (that means it's tight, honky), Undercover Brother sustains smiles.

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