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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.34%
Worth A Look45.76%
Average: 20.34%
Pretty Bad: 6.78%
Total Crap: 6.78%

4 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Undercover Brother
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by Scott Weinberg

4 stars

It's never fair to dismiss a film before it's advertised and released, but that's almost what I did with Undercover Brother. Following a year-and-a-half of painful and insulting comedies about black people (avoid How High and Snow Dogs as if they were made of phlegm), I was a bit leery about this one. But I'm pleasantly surprised to announce that Undercover Brother can now join the ranks of two other silly heroes that I also predicted would suck: Ace Ventura and Austin Powers. Once again, I'm glad to be proven wrong.

Undercover Brother has been classified by critics infintely more clever than myself as "Austin Powers meets Shaft". I point this out because A) it's an accurate assessment and B) I love stealing the thoughts of those more intelligent (and highly-paid) than myself. Simply put, Undercover Brother is a colorful and generally quite entertaining little farce, one that benefits greatly from a strong cast and a screenplay that deftly wanders between painfully silly and extremely clever.

Inspired by a funny series of animated Internet films, Undercover Brother tells the tale of Anton Jackson, a secret agent who acts as an inner-city Robin Hood...with a massive afro. After sabotaging a local bank to protect his neighborhood from foreclosure, Undercover Brother catches the eye of a covert agency called The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. Saddled with a colorful crew of sidekicks, including Conspiracy Brother and Sistah Girl, Jackson sets out to thwart the evil plans of an evil mastermind and the manic Mr. Feather.

Undercover Brother is at its best when skewering the age-old African-American stereotypes. From a less confident director, several of these gags could have ended up simplistic or even offensive, but Malcolm Lee (The Best Man) presents the film in such technicolor goofiness that it's impossible to take seriously. Screenwriter John Ridley (creator of the original Internet series) sets his sights on the cliches we're all familiar with, and does it with a fresh sense of humor. (When a black presidential candidate announces that he'd rather open a chain of fried chicken stands, it works because the film is satirizing the stereotype itself, not the character.)

Much like the underrated comedies Hollywood Shuffle, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!, and Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Undercover Brother is at its best when poking fun at cliche and blaxpoitation movies like Superfly and Dolemite. But there's also more than enough sophomoric silliness in between the satire to please fans of cheery slapstick. Gloriuously absent is anything resembling a semen joke or exploding toilet, but things get silly enough to appease the 13-year-old in all of us.

If Undercover Brother suffers from any glaring flaws, it's a third act that almost visibly runs out of steam, and a leading man who gets virtually none of the film's big laughs. Although his performance as Jackson is considerably more entertaining than his work in Double Take and The New Guy, he's hardly leading man material. Logically, that means that Griffin's supporting cast is working overtime.

Denise Richards (Starship Troopers) is surpisingly charming as the duplicitous Penelope Snow. (Richards needs to stay in the light-comedy/self-mocking mode, or she's destined for a career of straight-to-video productions.) Aunjanue Ellis (Men of Honor) holds more than one scene together as long-suffering Sistah Girl, and Neil Patrick Harris (TV's Doogie Howser) steals three or four bits as the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.'s token white intern. Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan is obnoxiously amusing as the evil Mr. Feather (although not nearly as funny as he can be), Chi McBride (Gone in 60 Seconds) gets a few nice bits as The Chief, and Dave Chappelle (Con Air) is drop-dead hilarious as Conspiracy Brother. Call me nuts, but if Chappelle and Griffin had switched roles, the film would have been twice as funny.

But why carp about minor issues when Undercover Brother is five times funnier than it could have been? Kudos to the producers who allowed Ridley to remain true to his original series, and director Lee for achieving an impressive balance of well-executed slapstick and insightful (albeit silly) social commentary.

A few more effective satires like this one, and moviegoers may one day be spared from low-minded demographic-pandering cinematic garbage like The Wash and Juwanna Mann.

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originally posted: 06/06/02 11:13:55
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User Comments

12/07/08 Lenny Zane Poor Denise Richards, so overly trashed for TheWorldIsNotEnough, gets good roles no more. 2 stars
10/20/08 Shaun Wallner Hilarious Movie! 5 stars
5/29/08 MDH-Matt Tsk, tsk. More than a parody as an intelligent & funny satire. Holds up better now than AP 5 stars
6/19/06 jason the best 5 stars
7/18/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Intelligent and funny. Won't see the likes of again. 5 stars
6/15/05 DM Amusing at points but forgettable and extremely lightweight. 3 stars
12/01/04 da hood' this film deomnstartes the racist double standard in todays society.....niggers. 1 stars
11/16/03 Samuel A pretty funny movie!! 3 stars
5/29/03 John Aster Habig Michael McCuller's best script the best cast Griffin, Chappelle, Richards 5 stars
2/13/03 Maegs Underrated send up on Blaxploitation 4 stars
2/07/03 since when did black or white cultures involve kung fu? still funny. 5 stars
1/30/03 natasha_theobald smart-funny, with well-earned laughs 4 stars
1/19/03 bob funny as all get out 4 stars
8/30/02 Candace Troy Powers Clashing combination of slapstick and militant dogma 2 stars
8/16/02 scott a great film 5 stars
6/30/02 Jim Doo-gie! Doo-gie! Climactic fight to "Beat It" nearly gave me a heart attack. 4 stars
6/29/02 Zaw fun filled movie 5 stars
6/29/02 Steve Crawford 1 stars
6/25/02 Jiz Who cares about the racial shit, this movie kicked ass! 5 stars
6/15/02 MyztiQ "solid" 4 stars
6/13/02 Film Dude Hey, this isn't Taco Bell... 4 stars
6/13/02 Film Guy It had some funny moments but it kinda never picked up. i did laugh out loud though 3 stars
6/11/02 Janine Lay pretty funny but I am racially open to this stuff 4 stars
6/10/02 The Bomb 69 I laughed a lot, nuff said!!! 5 stars
6/08/02 Jake Mediocre at best. Not a whole lot to laugh at and I was drunk. 3 stars
6/07/02 Joe Levy Oh sure if you are black and are Jessie Jackson then you will like this ludicrous movie!!!! 1 stars
6/05/02 Butterbean FINALLY, Somebody who saw the movie and UNDERSTOOD IT! Great review, Mr. Snider! 4 stars
6/05/02 masin wolliams Where is Rudy Ray and D'urville when you need them? 3 stars
6/04/02 Todd Not a total lump of shit. Had a few funny parts 2 stars
6/03/02 Nick2k not bad. kinda got carried away from reality though. imminent sequel foh sho'. 3 stars
6/02/02 y0rt If your black, your gonna love it. In other words, childesh and rasist. 1 stars
6/02/02 MyztiQ definately 2 funny....lotsa excellent 1-liners 5 stars
6/01/02 Dr Laura Is A Bitch (Doo dah, doo dah...) Lots of great movie moments. Some of the jokes fell flat. Awesome premise. 4 stars
6/01/02 Butterbean I am ready for the sequel! 5 stars
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  31-May-2002 (PG-13)



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