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Overall Rating
3.66

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 Collin Souter

"Spotty blaxploitation parody not all that Baad Asssss"
3 stars

Every once in a while, a movie comes along with more warning signs for disaster than a Rick Wakeman tribute band at Ozz-fest. This summer’s “Undercover Brother” had all the red flags: An all-too ringing endorsement from Harry Knowles; publicists going undercover as “hip” film goers on movie chat rooms to try and promote it; and an MTV show entitled “Movie House,” where they take a bunch of people from the Golden Demographic (18-24) and make them watch a movie so they can rave about it when it’s over. Why not just bring David Manning back from the dead so we can hear his thoughts? Plus, the trailer made the movie look awful.

I might have skipped “Undercover Brother” if the reviews Friday morning hadn’t been so glowing. In fact, I ended up seeing it twice, sort of. I first saw it at the Cascade drive-in as a second feature (“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” came first, which certainly fuelled my appetite for some silliness). Maybe the sleep-deprivation got to me and maybe the feeling of finally being at a drive-in, something I look forward to every summer, took over, but I enjoyed every goofy minute of “Undercover Brother.” However, a mishap in the projection booth kept me from seeing the whole movie, so I used my free pass and went again (this time, to a multiplex).

Sometimes, a second viewing can be bad news. Something about this second viewing irritated me. The jokes seemed more obvious. It seemed unable to take chances and go all the way with its premise. This time, I wanted to punch Chris Kattan. Perhaps having the movie screen so far away from me at the drive-in somehow thwarted my perception. Or maybe, “Undercover Brother” shouldn’t be watched in a multiplex in the middle of white-bread suburbia, where I’m sure most people in the audience couldn’t name a single blaxploitation movie if their mullets depended on it.

I myself only have a rudimentary knowledge of this sub-genre. I’ve seen some of the basics (“Shaft,” “Super-Fly” and “Foxy Brown”) as well as the catalyst for blaxploitation, Melvin Van Peebles’ “Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song,” an historically important experimental film, but certainly not the easiest film to sit through. So, I knew where “Undercover Brother” was coming from, but much of its source material can’t seem to find their way into the jokes when they relate to contemporary times.

The blaxploitation movement began in the early ‘70s, with the above-mentioned titles being the most important. At the tail end of the Civil Rights movements, Afro-Americans finally had a voice in cinema other than Sidney Poitier. Most movies took place in urban neighborhoods and most of the characters dressed in tacky, colorful, flamboyant ‘70s garb that complimented their afros. Afros were king back then! Bad guys were often white guys, and often referred to as The Man. The soundtracks, sometimes consisting of soul greats such as Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, played just as big a part in the movies as the hairstyles. The movies covered all genres from action to comedy (“Car Wash,” written, oddly enough, by Joel Schumacher); from feminist tales (anything with Pam Grier) to horror (“Blacula”); from martial arts (“Black Belt Jones”) to drama (“Cooley High”).

While the blaxploitation films certainly gave rise to an unheard voice in cinema, it also gave way to new Afro-American stereotypes: The black pimp with the big clothes, the black drug-pusher, the black gang leader, etc. White America had a new view of the black man, and it wasn’t much better than the view prior to the Civil Rights movement. These stereotypes would later be examined and parodied in Robert Townsend’s hilarious breakthrough film, “Hollywood Shuffle,” a movie about an aspiring young black actor who can only get roles in blaxploitation movies. Almost 10 years later, blaxploitation greats Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree and Ron O’Neal all united in 1996 for a film called “Original Gangstas.”

The makers of “Undercover Brother” certainly did their homework on this, I believe, the first movie “based on an Internet Series.” Yet one can almost hear the studio execs off-camera urging the creators to make it more contemporary, more like “Austin Powers,” so the young suburban white people will enjoy it and buy the soundtrack.

The Undercover Brother in question, played by Eddie Griffin, has been stuck in ‘70s blaxploitation culture and has now just been discovered by B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., a C.I.A.-like underground organization hell-bent on thwarting any conspiracy by The Man to oppress black people. When Undercover Brother intercepts one of the operations by doing it his way, B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D recruits him. “A ‘Soul Train’ reject with a Robin Hood complex. Just what we need,” says Sistuh Girl, UB’s eventual partner.

Billy Dee Williams plays a Colin Powell-type former General who announces to the world that instead of running for President of the United States, he plans on opening a chain of fried chicken restaurants. UB goes undercover as a straight-laced, soul-less suburbanite to find The Man behind this, convinced that the former General is under some sort of mind-altering drug conceived by Whitey.

As one would expect, much of “Undercover Brother’s" humor comes at the expense of white people, a lot of it funny, but a running gag involving mayonnaise gets a little old, especially if you’ve already been acquainted with the ‘80s Martin Mull show, “The History of White People In America.” I also find it ironic that a white guy, Neil Patrick Harris, steals the whole movie. On the other hand, Chris Kattan, as I said before, gets tiresome real quick, except towards the end where he must fight UB one on one to a familiar ‘80s tune. And Kattan’s fate ranks as one of the funniest movie moments of the year.

With just the right attitude and swagger, Eddie Griffin looks great as Undercover Brother. Likewise, Aunjanue Ellis, as Sistuh Girl, evokes the tough spirit of Pam Grier nicely. I only wish the two had more screen time together to actually build some chemistry. Too much time is spent with a character named White She Devil (a bland-as-usual Denise Richards), a white woman introduced as “Black Man’s kryptonite” sent to throw off UB’s investigation.

The problem with “Undercover Brother” is that it doesn’t quite go all the way with evoking the spirit of blaxploitation. The PG-13 rating and the major studio influence seems to constrict its potential to be an all-out throwback with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Even the soundtrack can’t cut loose. When UB asks Sistuh Girl to pop in a tape that sounds good in a car chase, we hear the annoying and cliché “Jungle Boogie.” It seems as though cameo appearances by stars of this genre would be a no-brainer. It certainly worked in Keenan Ivory Wayan’s hilarious blaxploitation parody “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” but here we only get James Brown.

Still, the movie has some big laughs and, under the right conditions, it works. It has a sweet nature and doesn’t go for the low-brow humor one would expect (not a single bodily fluid joke!). I wish it had spent more time at the beginning explaining to uninitiated audiences the importance of this sub-genre and it probably would have been a more faithful tribute had it been produced by an independent studio where they could have gotten away with more subtle humor. I love the split-screen opening sequence. I love the freeze-frames in the middle of the fight scenes. And I love Undercover Brother’s takes to the camera. But a “Sweet Sweetback” reference would be great for us film scholars and at least one Curtis Mayfield song would have been nice.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5928&reviewer=233
originally posted: 06/03/02 14:34:26
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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
6/20/08 PAUL SHORTT AN AMIABLE IF INCONSISTENT SEND-UP OF AND TRIBUTE TO BLAXPLOITATION FLICKS OF THE 1970'S 2 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  31-May-2002 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  13-Feb-2003




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