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Movie Review: Undercover Brother

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Released by Universal Pictures

Starring Eddie Griffin, Denise Richards, and Aunjanue Ellis

Written by John Ridley

Directed by Malcom D. Lee

Running Time: 95 minutes


Mostly a parody of the 1970's blaxploitation films, with a shaky spy story thrown in, Undercover Brother is good at the former and not particularly memorable as the latter.


Undercover Brother Anton Jackson (Eddie Griffin) is something of a ghetto Robin Hood. In the film's first real sequence, he is in disguise as a bank janitor, erasing mortgage records so that low-income families won't get their homes foreclosed on them. While there, he accidentally foils the mission of Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), drawing the attention of the group she works for, the BROTHERHOOD.


The BROTHERHOOD opposed the nefarious machinations of The Man and his chief lackey, Mr Feather (Chris Kattan). Mr Feather, though, is a White man infected by Black culture, always a hip-hop song away from busting his move. When The Man's plan to mind-control a Black presidential candidate, a retired General (Billy Dee Williams), is revealed, the BROTHERHOOD recruits Undercover Brother to help them.


Undercover Brother's allies are the aforementioned Sistah Girl, The Chief (Chi McBride), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), and Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle, basically doing his best standup routines). Together, they send Undercover Brother into the company that made the mind-control drug. Meanwhile, the General has scrapped his presidential run in favor of opening a chain of fried chicken restaurants. The hilarious commercial for General's Fried Chicken shows the movie's strengths in one thirty-second bit: a sharp eye for its targets, an impressive lampooning of stereotypes, and a feel-good if wry humor about the whole thing. As a parody, Undercover Brother is reminiscent of the best of The Simpsons.


The Man, however, has anticipated the move, and dispatched "Black Man's Kryptonite" to stop Undercover Brother. Penelope Snow (Denise Richards) befriends Anton Jackson and immerses him in White culture. Already acting Whiter than he ever has, Undercover Brother starts to lose his identity in a sea of tacky clothiers, heavily-mayonnaised sandwiches, and Michael Bolton songs. It sounds torturous, but Anton shares my view that Denise Richards is worth the pain.


The BROTHERHOOD rescues Anton before he completely forgets who he is. Penelope reveals herself as White She-Devil, an agent of The Man. Despite that, she helps the BROTHERHOOD due to her genuine affection for Undercover Brother. With the aid of White She-Devil, The Man's plan is foiled, and Smart Brother is able to make an antidote for the mind-control drug.


Undercover Brother is at its best when it is poking fun at stereotypes, on both sides of the racial divide. From Anton's old Cadillac Coupe de Ville, to the straight-out-of-the-70's wardrobes, to the scathing yet brutally frank fried chicken commercial, Undercover Brother is an excellent lampoon of both races in modern America. That it has so much fun taking jabs at both races, while peripherally wishing for more harmony between the two, is a testament to its strong writing, and the fact that the cast enjoys their exaggerated roles. Griffin and Richards singing a duet of "Ebony and Ivory," while Griffin displays the largest lack of rhythm I have ever seen from a non-White man, is both very funny and a good summation of the movie's true message.


The film is so good at parody that it makes me wonder why it tries to play up the spy aspect at all. It's just not very well done, and when the movie drags, it's during these moments. It rescues itself with good satire and humor often enough, but the fact that it needs rescuing at all is a problem. The script should stick to its strength; it's not like we haven't seen 90-minute story-thin parodies before, and Undercover Brother could probably beat most of them in the parody category.


The other problem was the performance of Chris Kattan. I know the whole movie is over the top, but his performance was just ridiculous. He was Jim Carrey at his annoying worst: unwatchable, ridiculous, and completely lost in the silliest aspects of his role. I'll admit to never being a Kattan fan, but this is by far the worst I've seen him. Everyone else went after their roles with the appropriate tongue-in-cheek aplomb, but Kattan was completely over the top and utterly beyond the pale.


Overall, Undercover Brother is a sharp comedy that unfortunately doesn't stay true to its strengths often enough. It's very enjoyable as an intelligent, often acerbic look at Blacks and Whites in America today. Its failings are few, but they're evident enough to pull this one down a bit. I'd still recommend it, especially to anyone who is a fan of satire and parody in the vein of The Simpsons.




Dr. Tom

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