“Undercover Brother” combines broad comedy with clever satire to happily skewer blacks, whites, men, women, the “blaxploitation” movies of the 1970’s, O.J. Simpson, and just about everything else that comes within range. Selected by the Washington Film Critics as the guilty pleasure of 2002, it is worth a look.
Comedian Eddie Griffin plays Undercover Brother, a guy with the tallest Afro, the highest platform shoes, and the coolest attitude on earth. He drives a gold-colored Cadillac with an 8-track tape player and a license plate that says, “Solid.”
Undercover Brother works on his own to fight injustice (he’s the “Robin Hood of the ‘hood”), but he is not aware of the seriousness of the threat. It seems that a mysterious bad guy known only as “The Man,” operating out of a remote island command center, is responsible for discrediting black public figures. Come to think of it, that explanation for Urkel and Dennis Rodman makes more sense than the real one.
A popular black general (Billy Dee Williams) is about to declare his candidacy for President. The Man is furious at the prospect of a possible black President (“Let’s keep the White House white!”). So, he directs his henchman (“Saturday Night Live’s” Chris Kattan) to stop him. Somehow, the general’s announcement turns out to be the opening of a chain of fried chiicken restaurants featuring the “nappy meal.”
An organization called The Brotherhood” asks Undercover Brother to join them in fighting The Man. With their top agent, Sistah Girl (Anjnue Ellis), Undercover Brother infiltrates The Man’s world, disguised as a Rastafarian caddy, a preppy office worker and someone I will just describe as a performing artist.
But the Man fights back with “black man’s Kryptonite” in the form of Denise Richards. For a moment, it seems that Undercover Brother will even eat tuna with extra mayonnaise. But Sistah Girl comes to his rescue, and they are soon off for the final confrontation.
The movie is filled with such high spirits and good humor that the jokes are pointed but not barbed. Director Malcolm Lee (a cousin of Spike Lee) has a marvelous eye for telling details (the re-creation of a 1970’s-style credit sequence is hilarious) and Eddie Griffin gives the title character some heart along with a lot of attitude.
Parents should know that the movie has very strong material for a PG-13 — as usual, the MPAA is much more lax with a comedy than they would be if the same material appeared in a drama. The movie has sexual references and situations, smoking, drinking, and drug humor, and comic violence.
Families who see this movie should talk about the stereotypes that the movie uses for humor and to make its points. How can some issues be addressed more effectively through comedy than through drama? Parents might find that they have to explain some of the humor to teenagers who are too young to remember some of the outfits and expressions satirized in the movie.
Families who enjoy this movie should take a look at some of the movies that inspired it, the “blaxploitation” movies of the 1970’s. Some of the best are included in the Pam Grier Collection and Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song. Note: both have very mature material.