Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
A high-spirited, clever satire on present-day race relations and a
spoof of the '70s Blaxploitation genre, "Undercover Brother," directed
by Spike's brother, Malcolm D. Lee (1999's "The Best Man"), comes
as an early-summer surprise. Moving at a clip pace and with a rib-tickling
joke always around the corner, this franchise-ready comedy could very
well become the next "Austin Powers."
Anton Jackson (Eddie Griffin) is a smooth-movin', Cadillac-showin',
afro-sportin' black man right out of the '70s decade who crosses paths
one day with B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., an organization run by The Chief
(Chi McBride), dedicated to racial equality, and always at odds with
The (White) Man and his evil henchman, Mr. Feathers (Chris Kattan).
The Chief likes Anton's moves enough to offer him a position as Undercover
Brother at the organization, which also includes sassy Sistah Girl
(Aunjanue Ellis), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), and Conspiracy
Brother (Dave Chappelle), and sole white intern Lance (Neil Patrick Harris).
Undercover Brother's first assignment goes as follows: In his pursuit
for white dominance, The Man has managed to brainwash a respected
black Presidential candidate (Billy Dee Williams) into forgoing his
political career in favor of opening a fried chicken fast food restaurant.
As Undercover Brother sets out to get to the bottom of this conspiracy,
his mission is distracted with the appearance of Penelope Snow, a.k.a.
White She-Devil (Denise Richards), hired by The Man and described
as "black man's kryptonite" to turn Undercover Brother into a mayonnaise-loving,
Bearing an undeniable resemblance to "Austin Powers," "Undercover
Brother" is a funnier and, overall, more successfully loopy romp.
Based on an Internet cartoon, the title character is sprung to life
by the giddily enjoyable Eddie Griffin (2002's "The New Guy"). Like
Mike Myers before him, Griffin's Undercover Brother is outlandish,
to be sure, but also a downright lovable movie hero. Through a nonstop
sea of hit-and-miss jokes (the jokes that hit are downright hysterical,
while the jokes that miss fall completely flat), Eddie Griffin carries
the entire movie on his shoulders, and he does it with energized aplomb.
But what makes "Undercover Brother" more than just a forgettable comedy
is its sharp-witted, non-preachy comment on black and white relations
and racial stereotypes, which the movie gleefully skewers. Written
by John Ridley and Michael McClullers, the physical comedy is well-executed
and the dialogue is often quote-worthy. The sheer audacity of the
central premise--that a black politician gives up his career to start
a fried chicken chain--avoids offending because white people are joyfully
spoofed just as much, if not more. Less original is the climax, which
heavily borrows from the 2000 screen adaptation of "Charlie's Angels,"
right down to a seaside mansion exploding, followed by a helicopter action sequence.
In addition to Griffin, the cast has a grand time hamming things up.
As Undercover Brother's feuding female companions, Aunjanue Ellis
(2000's "Men of Honor"), as Sistah Girl, and Denise Richards (2001's
"Valentine"), as White She-Devil, turn out to be splendid comedic
performers in their own right. This is particularly surprising of
the radiant Richards, whose acting talents have been questionable
in the past. One of the picture's funniest set-pieces is a ruthless
catfight between Ellis and Richards, in which they gradually get more
and more clothes ripped off of them before stumbling into a shower
together. As Mr. Feathers, a closeted lover of black culture, Chris
Kattan (2001's "Corky Romano") is his usual standout self. Finally,
Neil Patrick Harris (2000's "The Next Best Thing"), as the only white
man in the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., is a veritable hoot, stealing scenes left and right.
It's rare that movie spoofs work well, and something along the lines
of "Undercover Brother" could have just as easily failed miserably.
Somehow, through Malcolm D. Lee's direction, the actors' positive
comic timing, and a screenplay that is admittedly very clever, everything
has come together wonderfully. You may not think too deeply about
"Undercover Brother" once it's over, but you won't be able to deny
how much you laughed out loud.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman