An "Austin Powers"-style blaxploitation spoof, "Undercover Brother" doesn't miss a single joke. Its title sequence alone -- a montage depicting the rise and fall of African-American culture (from Jesse Jackson and James Brown highs to Urkel and Dennis Rodman lows) -- is a laugh riot, in a sad-but-true kind of way.
So is the plot, about The Man, a megalomaniacal Caucasian corporate billionaire, trying to stop a Colin Powell-like black politician (Billy Dee Williams) from running for president ("He's so well-spoken," says a patronizing white news anchor). The Man has him kidnapped and brainwashed into opening a chain of fried chicken joints that will serve "nappy meals" instead. (Politically correct? What's that?)
There's only one man who can stop this evil plan: Undercover Brother, baby!
The movie's cherry on top is the often-obnoxious Eddie Griffin ("The New Guy," "Malcolm and Eddie"), who has without question found his calling in the title role -- a wise-cracking, bad-ass, pimp-daddy spy with a snakeskin wardrobe and a two-foot 'fro. He's so cool that when we first meet him, he's doing a couple 360-degree spins in his gold, low-riding, 1972 Caddy convertible -- without spilling a drop of his orange soda Big Gulp.
Undercover Brother works for a secret organization called the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. -- dedicated to "truth, justice and the Afro-American way" -- along with sexy agent Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), gadget-building Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams) and pot-headed Conspiracy Brother (the hilarious Dave Chappelle). To save the day, he disguises himself as a khakis-wearing "Oreo" to infiltrate The Man's organization ("I can blend in like a good weave," he brags). But once there, he briefly falls under the spell of a sexpot enemy operative called White She Devil (Denise Richards), also known as "black man's Kryptonite," who turns him into -- gasp! -- a smoothie-sipping "Fraiser" fan.
Nothing is sacred in this gut-buster. Not white culture (obviously), not black culture (even as they try to stop him, the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. agents eat buckets full of William's fried chicken) and especially not white folks who try to be black. In one of the movie's many examples of inspired casting, Wonder Bread-white Neil Patrick Harris (the one-time "Doogie Howser, M.D.") plays an affirmative action intern at the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. who tries to fit in by saying "Whazzzuuup!" and "I'm down wit dat."
It's just a pity the filmmaking is so sloppy. Aside from delivering plot points and gags on schedule, director Malcolm Lee ("The Best Man") seems chiefly concerned with turning in a movie shorter than 90 minutes, and to expedite the task he seems to have edited with a machete.
The plot and characters are each established in less than 60 seconds of hasty, awkward dialogue. As the movie begins, the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. has never heard of Undercover Brother, even though he's clearly famous since kids take his picture on the street. And in between gags, there's a bare minimum of script -- just enough to keep the story from getting lost -- as psychotropic drugs in Williams' fried chicken start turning black people white all over America.
But in the case of "Undercover Brother" -- which is based on a series of animated shorts broadcast on the Web -- all that this slack movie-making means, however, is that while it's not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, it's still great entertainment. (Much like the movies it spoofs, come to think of it.)
From the souped-up Caddy that shoots slicks of Afro Sheen and ejected 8-Track tapes as weapons, to the secret handshake I.D. system that confirms blackness at B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. headquarters, to the histrionic Chris Kattan ("Corky Romano") playing The Man's fey henchman who can't resist the funk, not a minute goes by in this entire movie without at least a small laugh.
Run time: 86 mins
In Theaters: Friday 31st May 2002
Box Office USA: $38.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $41.6M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 100 Rotten: 30
IMDB: 5.8 / 10
Director: Malcolm Lee
Starring: Eddie Griffin as Undercover Brother, Chris Kattan as Mr. Feather, Denise Richards as White She Devil, Aunjanue Ellis as Sistah Girl, Chi McBride as The Chief, Neil Patrick Harris as Lance, Dave Chappelle as Conspiracy Brother