Undercover Brother FILM review



Film / Video Reviews
Undercover Brother FILM review
By
May 31, 2002, 21:19

Eddie Griffin as Undercover Brother

UNDERCOVER BROTHER directed by Malcom D. Lee; Universal Pictures, 2002

It's been a long time coming—after all, it's 30 years since the release of Superfly—but finally, Blaxploitation has gone mainstream. How else do you account for the threads, look and attitude of the 1970s black movie explosion appearing in a Burger King commercial?

What's goin' on?

Ask Conspiracy Brother, one of the funky characters in the Blaxploitation parody Undercover Brother, and he'll probably tell you it's part of a plot. You see, The Man is trying to keep the brothers down by selling them mind-altering hamburgers.

That wouldn't be far from the truth, at least according to Undercover Brother. Malcolm D. Lee's witty film twists, turns and lampoons every conspiracy and convention in Blaxploitation, the black film movement that spawned iconic characters and films such as Superfly, Shaft and Dolemite.

In Undercover Brother, the antihero is an Afro-and-pork-chop-sideburns-wearing superstud named Anton Jackson (Eddie Griffin). This bad mutha not only has the threads and the style, he's also got the spirit of his forefathers—so much so that he looks like he just woke up from a 30-year slumber after a long, hard night partying on SoulTrain.

Like Austin Powers, Jackson is a retroman out of time, but cool enough to pull it off.

Ditto for Undercover Brother. Lee's film plays with retro themes, but it injects enough irreverent humor into the picture to simultaneously skewer old stereotypes and new political correctness. It centers on a plot hatched by The Man, a white-supremacist organization whose first target is a former military man and would-be presidential candidate, General Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams). The general looks, talks and acts like Colin Powell—the ideal black man for the White House. The Man, however, wants to keep the White House white, so he brainwashes the general into ditching his presidential run to open a chain of fried chicken restaurants. The Man even enlists the evil Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan) to help him eradicate black culture by injecting a mind-altering substance in the general's chicken. It results in all sorts of havgc, including Jay-Z ditching hip-hop to croon Lawrence Welk's greatest hits. But there's a hitch: Mr. Feather is a suppressed Mary J. Blige fan, which leads him to wonder if he's a black man trapped in a white body.

Ridiculous? Sure. But Lee and screenwriter John Ridley are nonetheless adept at ridiculing stereotypes and, more importantly, the veneer of politeness that prevents whites and blacks from laughing at them. Like their hero, they mount a covert operation that uses humor, not the sloganeering of racial conflict films of years past, such as Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.

Griffin is the perfect man for that operation. His timing and sense for physical comedy is impeccable, from his black-is-beautiful bravado to the clumsy facial contortions he makes when going undercover as a white wannabe to the helplessness he feels when confronted with a “black man's kryptonite”: a white woman.

His posse—an assemblage of kitschy archetypes—tags along perfectly. His sexy sidekick, played by Aunjanue Ellis, is Foxy Brown for a new millennium. His foe-turned-squeeze, “White She-Devil,” is played by Denise Richards with all the camp of Jane Fonda in Barbarella.

David Chappelle is really the main man here, though. His character, a hilarious combination of a 1960s black nationalist and Rollo from Sanford and Son, mixes bombast with non sequiturs such as, “Did you know George Washington Carver created the first computer out of a peanut?”

Did he or didn't he, that's not the question. As long as Undercover Brotheris on the case, the world is guaranteed to be a funky place. Can you dig it?

-John Petkovic


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