Dir. by Malcom D. Lee - 1 hr. 26 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
I remembered liking this movie a lot more when it came out. Oh sure, there were still funny bits, but I was a little let down this time around. Comedies don't always age well, and there's some integral plot points in "Undercover Brother" that have come and gone in the real world, and maybe that's partially to blame. But not everything is built to last, and it's true here.
Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) is a one-man operative, trying to fight for the rights of the downtrodden. But, during a bank-based sabotage mission, he crosses paths with Sistah Girl (Aunjenue Ellis), who is also on a mission from B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., an organization that's dedicated to pretty much exactly what Undercover Brother is doing on his own. When retired General Warren Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams - think Colin Powell) spurns a Presidential bid to launch a chain of fried chicken restaurants, the organization brings in Undercover Brother to get to the bottom of things.
Perhaps the easiest comparison for "Undercover Brother" is "I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka," and with "Black Dynamite" coming down the pipeline about ten years later. The humor is based on the same blaxploitation films, and on racial stereotypes, and on fighting "The Man." And I mean that literally - the big bad guy in the film is literally called "The Man." So if you're not into those films, either the originals or parodies of them, "Undercover Brother" is not the sort of movie that's good enough to convert you. But if you're into it, there's plenty of things to enjoy, even silly little stuff like Brother navigating his convertible Cadillac through a series of spins, all while keeping his Big Gulp of orange soda perfectly balanced, so that not even a drop spills on his interior. It's also worth noting that the film picks up considerably in the third act, which is the final showdown on The Man's island fortress. I mean, part of the showdown between Undercover Brother and Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan) is scored to Michael Jackson's "Beat It," which is awesome in itself.
I will say that a comedy based on the premise of a black man running for president will have, by the current year of 2014, lost a lot of it's punch. Chris Rock made a movie in this same time frame with a much more serious, albeit still a comedic approach to the topic ("Head of State"), and I suspect that re-watching that film now would yield the same result. Right now, this is no longer a comedic premise, it's been reality for six years now. And I'll tell you straight up, I'm more than willing to trade the potency of a pair of middling comedies for breaking what once seemed like a unbreakable barrier in American poliltics.
So, what's left then? As I see it, there are three main reasons to watch "Undercover Brother." First off, this is pretty much peak Denise Richards. If you ever liked her at all, throw this film in between your evening viewings of "Starship Troopers" and "Wild Things" to change up your pace. Secondly and thirdly, Dave Chappelle and Neil Patrick Harris are fantastic in their supporting roles. Chappelle plays Conspiracy Brother, which sums things up nicely, and he made the most out of what he had with outstanding energy. NPH plays Lance, B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.'s intern, hired because of affirmative action, much to everyone's consternation. NPH pops up here and there until he gets more to do in the final act, including unleashing a series of Mortal Kombat-style fatalities on some guards who make the mistake of calling him a "sissy." Aside from the retrospective meta-awesomeness of that, this film was made a couple of years before NPH's role in "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle," but he's no less hilarious here than he is in those films.
It might be a bit of a back-handed compliment to say that it's worth watching "Undercover Brother" for a couple of supporting roles, but them's the breaks. Chappelle has done so few films, and NPH is rightly known to be hilarious now, but back then both were surprises. Besides, if you haven't seen "Undercover Brother" before, you might get more mileage out of the playing off of stereotypes that the first two acts of the film relies upon. It's not like this is a long film, or a difficult one to get through, so quit whining, okay?
2.5 / 5 - TV (HD)