Undercover Brother

March 20th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Starring: Eddie Griffin, Denise Richards, Chris Kattan, Aunjanue Ellis, Chi McBride, Dave Chappelle, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Anthony Williams, Billy Dee Williams

It had to happen — the success of the Austin Powers franchise has spawned its own comic subgenre — the ‘movement’ spy spoof.

This time, the fun isn’t poked at Ian Fleming’s world of man-of-the-world espionage scene of martinis and Batman-esque villains, but the funky jive-ass blaxploitation films of the late 60s and early 70s.

Don’t expect too much Tarantino, Superfly or Pam Grier bad-mama chic here though, it’s strictly a straight effort for the Austin Powers audience.

A secret organisation — the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. — has the task of fighting the influence of top level white supremacists in the upper echelons of society. One day, they see a mysterious bank robber in action and decide they need his skills. He becomes Undercover Brother (Griffin), the coolest of the cool, cool cats.

As the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. battles a conspiracy to keep a retired black military general (Dee Williams) from running for US President, every opportunity is gleefully taken to poke fun at everything surrounding the blaxploitation era — the language, the cars, the funky mamas, the platform shoes — even the endless fascination about sex with a white woman.

Described as black man’s kryptonite, the white woman (Richards) provides one of the films funniest sequences as she seduces UB into losing all his ‘blackness’ with her charms and purity.

A straight up and down comedy, the jibes are all done in a light-hearted way that avoid any overtly realistic social or racial issues. And most of the way through, the laughs are pretty genuine, coming surprisingly thick and fast for a Hollywood effort.

Particularly well done are the characters — Griffith as Undercover Brother is actually the least developed or stereotypical of the lot. Dave Chappelle as conspiracy brother (who sees an anti-black plot in everything) steals every scene he’s in, while the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. Chief (McBride), resident scientist Smart Brother (Williams), and Lance (Doogie Howser’s Neil Patrick Harris as the only white member of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.) get all the funniest lines.

Adapted from the animated Internet series of the same name, Griffin seems tailor made for the role, with a ridiculously huge afro and pork chop sideburns. Chris Kattan, who looked like another cardboard cutout Saturday Night Live moron in Corky Romano, plays a pretty convincing villain and comes surprisingly close to showing range of talent.

Commercial and lowbrow, but definitely funnier and faster than most ‘comedies’ churned out of the Hollywood sausage factory today. Solid!

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