by Del Harvey
The ’70s are here to save us all from the millennium. Right on, baby.
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He’s Undercover Brother—here to rescue us all from The Man. Eddie Griffin (Double Take, John Q, The New Guy) is Undercover Brother, a vigilante for the oppressed. He bumps into an agent of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), ruining her organization’s biggest operation against The Man. So they recruit him to infiltrate The Man’s corporate organization, Multinational, Inc., trading in his ‘fro and platform boots for plaid pants and penny-loafers. But before he can do much damage inside the enemy’s organization, evil henchman Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan) unleashes their secret weapon, White She Devil (Denise Richards).
Undercover is totally whipped by She Devil, and The Man’s plot to brainwash the first real black candidate for the presidency, Gen. Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams) seems all but certain. Instead of announcing his candidacy, the general’s news conference turns out to be an announcement that he’s launching a chain of fried chicken restaurants, much to the horror of the hopeful B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. gang. We soon learn that if you order an eight-piece “Nappy Meal” from the General’s Fried Chicken, you get a free 32 oz. malt liquor—a fine-tuning of Williams’ own endorsement past.
The screenplay is by John Ridley (Three Kings), and is taken from his internet comic strip. His co-scripter for the film was Michael McCullers, who has also written the second and upcoming third Austin Powers. The film is directed by Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man), cousin of Spike. Lee keeps the tone light while avoiding any stridency or heavy-handedness. None of the actors is allowed to take himself too seriously, and everyone gets ribbed affectionately as the movie takes a liberal view towards the intermingling of black and white culture. Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) has a very funny supporting role as Lance, hired by the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. to satisfy Affirmative Action.
Undercover Brother pulls no punches when it comes to playing a joke—no race or sex is safe. When he’s being recruited, Undercover Brother is told that all those myths are true, such as the NBA instituting the 3-point shot in order to give white boys a chance to play the game. When he asks if O.J. was really innocent, everyone clears their throats and moves the conversation along. Nothing is sacred, and many films are spoofed. Unlike other recent spoofs, such as Scary Movie, or even the obvious Austin Powers, Undercover Brother pokes great fun at itself. The film suffers only in small bits, and the humor stays fresh and lively throughout. Griffin scores with his first starring role, and the supporting cast is perfect in this send-up of exploitation pix, spy films, and the state of our culture.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Southern California, is a devout Bears fan, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College for giggles.
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