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Undercover Brother

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Undercover Brother

Starring: Eddie Griffin, Denise Richards
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: May 2002
Genres: Action, Comedy

*Also starring: Dave Chappelle, Chris Kattan, Aunjanue Ellis, Neil Patrick Harris, Billy Dee Williams, James Brown, Chi McBride

Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

Blaxploitation movies are according to Ephraim Katz's "The Film Encyclopedia" "a category of sensational, low-budget motion pictures made in the early 70s that featured tough African-American heroes in gritty urban settings....Typically crime thrillers laden with violence and sex, the films often employed black directors as well as actors."

If you're young, the principal target audience of "Undercover Brother" which purports to satirize this genre of film, you may never have seen the original "Shaft" or my favorite, "Sweet Sweetback's Baadaas Song." The latter, starring its director-financier, writer-scorer Melvin Van Peebles, is about a superstud who runs from the police more than even Lola ran to get her boyfriend's money in Tom Tykwer's "Run, Lola, Run."

In parodying the blaxploitation genre which is itself a parody of movies that take race relations too seriously "Undercover Brother" is not in the same league as the above. While Van Peebles is far more interested in returning violence with violence (as is the eponymous Shaft), director Malcolm D. Lee, a cousin of Spike Lee, is playing strictly for laughs. There's nothing in his comedy a series of Saturday-Night-Live skits more than a coherent plot that we don't already know, so we must judge the pic with our laugh meter. Except for one or two bright comedic spots, one being a skit in which the title character played by Eddie Griffin is hired as a consultant to a tobacco marketer, impressing them that the black man and black woman want a REAL cigarette, long and thick, "Undercover Brother" is repetitious. We may smile rather than guffaw but at least, given the thankful absence of bodily solids and fluids and gases, there's nothing that would embarrass anyone in the summer movie crowd.

The Undercover Brother, Anton Jackson (whose name doesn't cross the soundtrack), is stuck like Austin Powers in the '70s, but while he never says groovy or even dig-it, his 'fro is the right size and his threads are cool. When he encounters an organization that seems a parody of a parody of a Bond movie (like the aforementioned Austin Powers) B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D he at first makes one of its lieutenants, Sista Girl (Aunjanue Ellis) roll her eyes. But the organization soon sees the Brother as the man who might counteract the forces of the group's diametrical opposite, a corporation known as The Man, whose leader seeks to put the black man in his place by making a fool out of the first African- American presidential candidate (Billy Dee Williams imitating Colin Powell). Under the influence of a new drug he is administered, the candidate decides to throw his hat into the ring, but for the role of chief executive of a fried chicken franchise, General Fried Chicken whence comes a series of gags that might prompt the audience to ask, "What are they serving for dessert watermelon?"

"Undercover Brother" has the usual rip-offs of prior movies like "The Matrix" as Jackson takes up arms and legs against the KKK-like lieutenants in the corporation. With the help of the affirmative action white boy, Lance (Neil Patrick Harris); Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle as the most comically anti-white of the organization), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), The Chief (Chi McBride), and Sista Girl, the brothers must not only fight directly against the right-wing corporation but stop Undercover Brother from being co-opted by The Man's chief woman, the seductive and gorgeous Penelope Snow (Denise Richards).

Despite invectives that fill the movie like "white boy," the racial taunts are gentle enough to be taken as all in good fun. "Undercover Brother" is a pleasant enough summer entertainment, but Eddie Griffin is no Eddie Murphy and even at 83 minutes the pic overstays its welcome.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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