Undercover Brother (May 29/02)
Eddie Griffin, the star of Undercover Brother, seems an unlikely leading man. Thus far, he's made a career out of playing obnoxious, loud-mouthed characters - most notably in the uber-flop Double Take. But here, as the Undercover Brother, he comes off as (unbelievable as it sounds) cool. Like Shaft and Superfly before him, Undercover Brother is unflappable in the face of danger and he's always got time for the ladies. And though this is ostensibly a parody of '70s soul flicks, the movie also works as a throwback to that sort of filmmaking.
As the film opens, Undercover Brother works alone, righting wrongs for poor black folks. His actions raise the attention of The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. (which doesn't actually stand for anything; go figure) - an organization dedicated to furthering the cause of African Americans everywhere. He's brought into the fold by a tenacious female operative named Soul Sistah (played by Aunjanue Ellis) and is immediately informed of the dire situation: A shadowy figure known only as The Man is plotting to brainwash black people everywhere, using fried chicken as the vehicle for his nefarious plans. Working for The Man are The Feather (Chris Kattan), who often unwittingly speaks Ebonically and secretly enjoys hip hop, and White She Devil (Denise Richards), a sexy agent sent to distract Undercover Brother from his mission (her kind is considered "black man's kryptonite).
Undercover Brother zips along at a frenetic pace, but the lack of plot does eventually catch up with the rest of the movie. While the first half is enjoyable enough, the film finally begins to suffer from the underdeveloped storyline. But this is a mild complaint. The script, by John Ridley and Michael McCullers, is surprisingly intelligent and pokes fun at virtually every cliché present in this type of movie. It doesn't hurt that the film never takes itself too seriously, lobbing out rapid-fire gags and filled to the brim with stereotypical characters. There's the overbearing and tough-as-nails head of The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. (well played by Boston Public's Chi McBride), a hilariously out-of-place white intern who tries his darndest to ingratiate himself amongst the black folks (Neil Patrick Harris, reminding us that he does have a knack for comedy), and so on. Billy Dee Williams even pops up, playing a would-be Presidential candidate brainwashed into opening a fried chicken joint instead. His scenes, consisting of his ill-conceived attempts at selling chicken, are worth the price of a ticket. Even Kattan, last seen as the grating title character in Corky Romano, manages to deliver a funny performance - chewing up scenery without coming off as irritating.
Undercover Brother is the sort of movie that's best viewed with a large audience. Their laughter will likely prove to be infectious, and for the jokes that don't quite work, that's a good thing.
**1/2 out of ****
© David Nusair 2002