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Undercover Brother
2002 - PG-13 - 83 Mins.
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Producer: Brian Grazer, Michael Jenkinson, Damon Lee
Written By: John Ridley, Michael McCullers, Salanini Patterson
Starring: Eddie Griffin, Aunjanue Ellis, Dave Chappelle, Denise Richards, Chris Kattan
Review by: David Trier
   
Payback's a bitch. That's the lesson to be learned from this ballsy and entertaining film. Although at times it goes too far, and at times not far enough, Undercover Brother deserves most of its credit just for being what it is, an unapologetic reversal on white media.

The film goes under the theory that "The Man," known to most as the historically oppressive white America, is actually a real person, the head of an organization whose sole purpose is to keep African Americans from realizing their full potential. When a decorated black general and politician, General Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams), clearly a nod to Colin Powell, is expected to announce his candidacy for president, The Man fears that he may actually win and so orders his henchman, Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan), to sabotage him. Feather uses The Man's secret poison to brainwash the General, making him instead announce that he's starting a chain of fried chicken restaurants, much to the humiliation of black society. Immediately suspicious, The Brotherhood, an underground black organization and long-time adversary of The Man, must solve the mystery of the General. But The Chief (Chi McBride) and his agents Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams) and Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle) agree they'll need to enlist the help of a legend for what may be the final showdown between The Brotherhood and The Man. Enter Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin), a caricature of seventies afrocentric funk whose pranks include manipulating bank records to ensure low interest loans to poor blacks. But when Undercover Brother goes deep undercover, he himself falls victim to The Man's other secret weapon, The White She-Devil (Denise Richards), who's capable of using her ridiculously hot body to make Undercover abandon his black roots and eat mayonnaise. Will The Brotherhood save General Boutwell from being the black Colonel Sanders? Will Undercover Brother come to his senses and foil The Man's plan? Gosh, I sure do hope so.

The film starts off fast and funny with a few playful nods to black stereotypes. Some of the jokes are laugh-out-loud and the introduction to the mere premise of the film, makes it out to be a lot more creative than one would think. Eddie Griffin, whose been in more than a handful of supporting roles in usually unfunny comedies, gets a few opportunities to be very entertaining as Undercover Brother. But unfortunately, he seems to neither have the confidence nor the presence to carry the film the way a title character should. For example, Dave Chappelle as Conspiracy Brother is far funnier and more engaging.

Is the film racist? Well, yes it is, but... Most of the blacks-are-like-this-whites-are-like-that jokes are pretty tame, but a few lean awfully close to just mean. There are only two white characters in the film. One is a disloyal slut and the other is an ignorant intern (Neil Patrick Harris). But then I ask you: If you were watching a movie comprised mainly of Caucasians and the only two black characters were a whore and an idiot, would you notice? Probably not. We're so conditioned to the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) racism in films, it seems unfairly blatant when presented to us. That's what's so clever about Undercover Brother in that it turns the tables on what has long been a white-dominated industry and asks, what if it were like this? Payback's a bitch.

This all sounds very serious and meaningful, which is unfortunate because Undercover Brother is so unbelievable sophomoric and asinine as a whole, it doesn't really do itself justice. Some parts really are pricelessly funny, but there seems to be room for a lot more comedy, particularly as it regards the title character whom we wish we knew more about. Undercover Brother is less appealing than The Ladies Man (both have the ridiculously cool Billy Dee Williams), but at the very least is worth a rental. It doesn't always hit its mark, but few other films have been so blunt and irreverent about the black experience in America and if you don't care about that, at least there's a scene with two beautiful women cat fighting in a shower.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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