THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Undercover Brother - how do I even begin to review this movie? I've been sitting here staring at my computer for five minutes, unable to find a place to start. It's not that this is a hard film to explain or even justify my reason for liking. It's just that the comic material it uses is so satiric that I'm not sure I will be able to do it justice.

Here's the concept: an underground group known as the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. works to advance the rights of African-Americans. Their foe is The Man, a shadowy white guy who works overtime to keep society monochromatic. (One of the big jokes in the film is that there really is a "Man" trying to keep blacks down.) The Man's latest plot involves turning African-Americans into walking/talking stereotypes via a chain of restaurants that serve fried chicken laced with a hallucinogenic drug. Their unwitting spokesman is the Colin Powell-esque General Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams).

Eddie Griffin plays a slightly outdated superspy in Undercover Brother
Brought in to help with the fight is Undercover Brother himself (Eddie Griffin), a super-spy who seems to have stepped out of a 1970's "blaxploitation" movie. He's got the 'fro, the duds, and the 'tude. Most interestingly, he doesn't seem to realize that he's about 30 years out of date. Undercover Brother teams up with Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis) to infiltrate The Man's business headquarters. He does this by undergoing a brainwashing by Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams) that makes him more "uppity" and therefore more palatable to the white infrastructure. The Man gets wise to the plan and sends in White She Devil (Denise Richards) - dubbed "the black man's Kryptonite" by one character - to derail UB's trojan horse attack. Eventually, Sistah Girl snaps him back to attention and motivates him to fight for justice.

Based on what I have just written, you might think that this movie makes fun of black culture or takes some easy potshots at white people, but that isn't quite correct. Undercover Brother is meant to satirize not only blaxploitation movies but also the unfair ways that people of all races get stereotyped. Sure, there are jabs at the occasional blandness of white culture, and there are plenty of satiric exaggerations of black culture as well. Sometimes there are also exaggerations of stereotypes, such as in the character of Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle), who believes that everything has been designed to oppress blacks. There's nothing particularly offensive here for two reasons: the movie skewers everyone evenly and it does so with a certain amount of affection.

It's obvious that the makers of Undercover Brother - with their cluelessly out-of-date, old movie-inspired hero - want you to be reminded of Austin Powers. Actually, though, the film reminded me of the great TV show "In Living Color" for the way it magnifies the false images we often connect with both black and white culture. Is there really a Man trying to keep blacks down. Of course not, but he's a pretty funny symbolic representation of institutional racism. Do African-Americans really need a 70's soul brother to lead them to revolution? No, but Undercover Brother does stand for the cultural pride that is one of the most admirable traits of the black community. Director Malcolm Lee (Spike Lee's cousin) fundamentally understands the level of satire this movie needs to work, and he does a good job wringing laughs from topical subject matter.

I see now that my fear has come true: I have failed to do this movie justice. I have analyzed the humor, sought out its relevance. In fact, Undercover Brother is a comedy, and a pretty good one at that. This should be the basis of my review because that is what most people will be interested in. Therefore, allow me say that the movie made me laugh frequently, several times very hard. There is weightier material underneath, but the surface is clever and entertaining. It's worth seeing.

Fo' shizzle.

( out of four)

Undercover Brother is ratedPG-13 for language, sexual humor, drug content, and campy violence. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.

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