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I certainly don’t recall being amused when they first announced Undercover Brother a couple of years back, hearing that author John Ridley (who’d penned the first draft of Three Kings and the novel Stray Dogs that was adapted into Oliver Stone’s lesser U-Turn) would get a cool million to adapt his online animated spoof no one had ever heard of. And the premise, about a disco African-American spy subverting "The Man", seemed like something that could only promote racial disharmony (which this world certainly doesn’t need more of), and couldn’t be further from the funny.
Hey, I’ve been wrong before…
The hazards of living in Ron Jeremy’s neighborhood.
Undercover Brother stars Eddie Griffin (the guy from… well, the first 5 minutes of Armageddon) as the titular character, a superfunky Robin Hood of the ‘hood. This afro-topped, bell-bottomed anachronism finds himself recruited into the BROTHERHOOD for a mission of utmost importance. Their shadowy foe "The Man" has brainwashed a respected military veteran and possible presidential candidate (still-suave Billy Dee Williams in a non-embarrassing appearance… well, except for the whole fried chicken thing) and is using him as a spokesperson for a black-focused fast-food franchise, delivering crispy mind-control poultry to drive the blackness from soul brothers and sisters everywhere.
"Do you like it? I got it free with the purchase of the Rectum Rampager™!"
The BROTHERHOOD ain’t down with that. Led by perpetual yeller The Chief (Chi McBride in an unveiled variation of his "Boston Public" principal), Undercover Brother teams up with rotund gadget-guy Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), crackpot/pothead Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle, playing Dave Chappelle) and sassy asskicker Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis, daaaaamn) to infiltrate "The Man’s" corporation Multinational Inc. and get to the bottom of it.
To combat Undercover Brother, "The Man" sends an irresistible secret weapon in the doe-eyes and alert breasts of frisky White She-Devil (Denise Richards, who always seems somewhat surprised and/or confused that she’s actually in a movie). It’s up to the BROTHERHOOD to rescue Undercover Brother from her charms and together penetrate "The Man’s" secret island fortress, stop his top henchman Mr. Feather (manic simian Chris Kattan) and foil "Operation Whitewash".
If you find this scene gratuitous, then you’re just… I mean… I, uh… the hell was I saying?
I admit, I sat down to watch Undercover Brother with arms skeptically folded and scowl affixed, perfectly prepared to deliver it a savage beating. Behind the spirited and garish 70s pastiche I didn’t really expect a moderately clever, surprisingly effective satire that managed to keep me grinning goofily and laughing aloud through its breezy play time (clocking in around 79 minutes less credits, it’s about as filling as two Cheetos and a thimble of Mr. Pibb).
Nor would I have thought that Griffin, with his ludicrously exaggerated features, would be exponentially more tolerable than, sa y, Martin Lawrence’s unabashed camera mugging. Griffin’s got all the retro nuances down, but it’s his uptight white guy impersonation that’s damn funny. By the same token (ahem), as a tragically white BROTHERHOOD intern, Neil Patrick Harris easily delivers his best work since his stirring performance as a psychic Nazi in Starship Troopers — it’s hard not to chuckle when Doogie enters a room and proclaims "Holy moley, it looks like the Source Awards in here!". Aunjanue Ellis is a seriously delectable dish of chocolate sweetness who keeps Griffin on track, and the whole cast is generally excellent with the possible exception of Kattan, who hints at comedy when fighting the temptations of black culture, before regressing into his trademark SNL "kooky flailing".
"Oh, now I get it… the little girl left all the water around the house because she knew the alien would show up! Wait… that’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard!"
Your enjoyment of Undercover Brother will likely be directly proportional to an appreciation for "blaxploitation" flicks (e.g., Foxy Brown, Truck Turner, Dolemite, Slaughter, and of course, Black Belt Jones) and a waning interest in the bludgeoning Austin Powers and James Bond franchises. The jokes (including some good-natured jabs at Macy Gray, the NBA and Spike Lee) and visual gags are occasionally silly and broad, but also relatively sharp and thankfully never reliant on feces, fat-suits and other lowest-common-denominator grotesque humor (which sadly will disappoint viewers who just can’t get enough of "the poop"). Not every gag’s a prize, but the unpretentious racial riffing and pokes at mainstream culture hit the mark more often than not.
Few are aware that Griffin was actually a close second for the role of young Anakin in Phantom Menace, but unfortunately just couldn’t nail the "yippee!".
But Ridley (with Austin Powers scribe Mike McCullers) and director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man) keep things decidedly rollicking. Toss in a trunk o’ funky tunage, a gloriously shameless clothes-ripping catfight scene, vivid outdated lingo, the first CGI hairpicks in a feature film (to the best of my knowledge) and perhaps the greatest rendition of "Ebony and Ivory" ever, and you got a fun time with Undercover Brother.
What can I say? Right on. I can dig it.
8.0 out of 10
Was probably funnier before it became an actual possibility.
Christ… you knew I was gonna say that, so I’m not apologizing.
But really… it looks damn good, especially considering all the heavy obnoxious colors and patterns on display. A picture so clear you can almost count Denise Richards’ dozens of brain cells.
8.5 out of 10
There’s a kickin’ Dolby Digital 5.1, but it’s the crystal DTS track that pushes the boomin’ groove-filled soundtrack with loads of wukka-wukka and enough low-end to summon spice worms.
Really dynamic audio with great tunes.
9.0 out of 10
Lando? You guessed it… loves him the Hollow Man.
The Goodies This disc is packed tighter than the leading ladies’ attire. And that’s saying something, doink!
There’s an alternate ending revolving around baking and marijuana that’s no great loss, but the half-hour of deleted scenes includes some unfortunate omissions like a brief Morpheus gag and cameos from Robert Townsend and karate-man Jim Kelly.
Five minutes of bloopers make up the film’s outtake reel, while a handful of the original Undercover Brother ‘net toons are included and are fairly amusing despite the anticipated shoddy animation. Snoop Dogg and Bootsy Collins’ music video for the tune "Undercova Funk" is also part of the package. A "music highlights" option on the menu allows instant access to scenes from the movie where soundtrack tunes are playing, an interesting addition if not incredibly valuable.
Leroy learned the lesson the hard way: never buy a vehicle from Killer Klown Autos.
"Welcome to the Brotherhood" is the 30-minute "making-of" featurette, and it really showcases the infectious fun the players and filmmakers had when they were putting it together. Bonus appearance by manga-haired producer Brian Grazer! There’s also two separate commentary tracks, one from Eddie Griffin and one from director Malcolm D. Lee. They really would’ve benefited from having them record it together, because Griffin really needs someone to play off of. His solo commentary is surprisingly sparse and not terribly informative, while Lee’s gives insight to the process of making a comedy and the downsides of dealing with FX, but doesn’t provide many particularly entertaining anecdotes.
Tossed in with the basic Production Notes and Cast & Crew listings is the Undercover Brother theatrical trailer, along with trailers for Empire and upcoming spoof Johnny English.
8.0 out of 10
Mildly reminiscent of Charlie’s Angels for some reason, but it does feature Griffin flanked by the film’s hotties (even though Denise reportedly insists that’s some sort of "butt double", though I can’t conceive of what she would possibly complain about). It doesn’t have as much retro feel as perhaps it should (afro notwithstanding), and I detest review blurbs, but the cover gets the point across well enough. And it’s got a gravity-battling ass in skintight clothing. Word.
7.0 out of 10
THE FLICK: 8.0
THE LOOK: 8.5
THE NOISE: 9.0
THE GOODIES: 8.0
THE ARTWORK: 7.0