"Undercover Brother" dishes out tasty helpings of stupid jokes; brainy jokes; it satirizes race, color, creed, gender and social status, while offering plenty of cheesy music, cheesier sets and costumes and overhyped action sequences. Incredibly, the one thing missing and thankfully so is resorting to flatulence and bodily fluids to get cheap laughs.
By mixing the white male killer-stud fantasy with the black male empowered funk fantasy, director Lee (cousin of Spike) puts forth an engaging and entertaining theory that a homogenized pop culture just might be the way to interracial harmony.
In high-comic parody style, the plot is more than a bit outrageous: Eddie Griffin plays Anton Jackson (aka Undercover Brother), a black Austin Powers type sent to fight The Man after an African-American army general (Billy Dee Williams) drops his bid for the presidency in favor of opening up his own chain of fried-chicken shacks across the nation. But that's not the only weird thing to happen. Then Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle) who reads "Good Will Hunting" as "I'm Hunting N----rs," falls for the General's punchy TV slogans.
These out-of-character incidents are the work of The Man, who with the help of Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan), is attempting to poison America's black population with a mind-control substance found in the General's secret recipe.
When Anton impresses the Chief (Chi McBride) of B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., a secret organization dedicated to opposing the schemes of The (white) Man, he's offered a position in the "H.O.O.D.'s" inner circle. Sporting a mega-'fro and a fashion sense forever stuck in the '70s, Anton becomes Undercover Brother, working alongside Sista Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), the aforementioned Conspiracy Brother, and Lance (Neil Patrick Harris,) the white, affirmative-action intern.
Anton's first mission as Undercover Brother may be his most important: He must go undercover as a racial sellout in a white corporation to discover the future plans of The Man. Some of the movie's funniest moments and most pointed lampoons happen here, when Undercover Brother loses himself in white corporate America. In rapid-fire throwaway lines, we learn that John Singleton is not only directing a remake of "Driving Miss Daisy," but Terry McMillan is hard at work on her next best seller, "How Stella Got Her White Man Back."
Lee and cast not only show an unerring instinct when it comes to comic timing, they also underscore the effectiveness of gentle humor over stridence when it comes to satire. But best of all, they understand the pitfalls of trying to stretch a comedy beyond 90 minutes, no matter how inherently funny the material may be. With "Undercover Brother," the filmmakers reinvent the movie every 20 minutes or so, completely changing its tone and focus. Although that might sound episodic and jarring, it works here. Unreeling more like a series of interconnected skits than a coherent, linear narrative film, "Undercover Brother" gets to mine an amazing number of laughs and pointedly smart social commentary.
As Anton, Griffin makes the retro-leap without a second thought, playing Undercover Brother to the hilt. Chappelle takes paranoid to new comic heights, and Harris has no trouble playing the hopelessly white, square peg at this round table. Ellis shines as Sista Girl in the over-the-top catfight with The Man's Secret Weapon, Denise Richards. The only sour note sadly is Kattan, continuing his string of personal worsts on-screen. Not merely unfunny, he's also annoying.
The savvy Lee struggles occasionally, but by and large manages to keep "Undercover Brother" true to both its Bond and blaxploitation roots, while acknowledging that women can be sexy and powerful. Not only laugh-out-loud funny; it's the coolest summer movie yet. S
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