Undercover Brother Review
Cooler than Shaft, badder than Superfly, Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) is a seventies soul man who cruises modern America in his gold Cadillac, combing his afro and fingering his medallion. His mission: to fight the powers that oppress black people, promote racism and, worse, take the funk out of black culture. His arch-enemy is the Man, a shadowy racist supervillain whose latest scheme is brainwashing a Colin Powell-ish black presidential candidate (Billy Dee Williams) into dropping out of the race to set up a chain of fried chicken restaurants.
Also keeping tabs on the Man is the Brotherhood, a kind of black secret service run by the Chief (Chi McBride) and comprising Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle) ...and white intern Lance (Neil Patrick Harris) who they were forced to take on because of affirmative action. The Chief hires Undercover Brother to inflitrate the Man's organisation but he's reckoned without his henchman Mr Feather (Chris Kattan), his army of goons and his secret weapon, White She-Devil (Denise Richards), who is described as "black man's kryptonite".
Undercover Brother started life as an animated series on the Urban Entertainment website, which is dedicated to showcasing black talent. The series is written by novelist and screenwriter John Ridley, who wrote Oliver Stone's U-Turn and the film was adapted by Ridley and Michael McCullers, who co-wrote the Austin Powers films with Mike Myers. Undercover Brother has been compared to Austin, who is also a cultural throwback fighting villainy in the modern world and it also bears a resemblance to the work of the Wayans brothers (Scary Movie) who themselves made a parody of blaxploitation movies in 1988 called I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.
However, while fans of those films will probably like Undercover Brother, it's no rip-off - Ridley, McCullers and director Malcolm D Lee (Spike's cousin no less) give it a distinctive flavour of its own and a hefty dose of satire. What's most fun about it is the cathartic way it throws political correctness to the wind, mocking black culture and white culture alike with merciless glee, the way Bulworth did but with more of a smile and a broader aim. Militant blacks, ignorant "country" blacks, blacks who act white, whites who act black, bigoted whites, guilty liberal whites... no target is too sensitive yet the ribbing is so good natured that only the sternest and most humourless could find much offence.
The cast is nothing if not game for a laugh. Eddie Griffin, a successful stand-up comedian, has had supporting roles in a lot of films, most memorably as Deuce Bigalow's pimp, and his leading role here should bring him the attention he deserves. Also praiseworthy is Dave Chappelle, who gets a lot of big laughs as the paranoid Conspiracy Brother, for whom the phrase "good morning" is a racist slur. And the lovely Denise Richards proves again that while she may not be the greatest actress alive, she's a great sport and she sends herself up nicely.