Revisited: Undercover Brother

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film begins with a back story of how black culture’s popularity with the American public began to decline in the 1980s, when style and originality began to lose appeal in the public eye due to the persistent efforts of “The Man” (Robert Trumbull), a powerful Caucasian man in control of a secret organization that seeks to undermine the African-American community as well as the cultures of other minorities. The Man is infuriated that Gen. Warren Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams), a U.S. Army general based on Colin Powell, is considering running for president, and his lackey Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan) informs him of a mind control drug which The Man uses to make Boutwell abort his plans and instead open a fried chicken franchise. The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., a secret organization that battles The Man’s influence, determines The Man is behind Boutwell’s change of heart, and recruits a freelance agent named Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) to aid them.

Undercover Brother joins B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. which is made up of the Chief (Chi McBride), Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), and Lance (Neil Patrick Harris), an intern who is the only white man in the organization due to affirmative action. Undercover Brother goes undercover as a new employee at a cigarette company owned by The Man, where Mr. Feather discovers his identity. He deploys a secret weapon that he calls “Black Man’s Kryptonite”, an attractive assassin named White She-Devil (Denise Richards). Posing as another new employee, she and Undercover Brother start dating, and she begins to make him do stereotypical “white” things, such as buying corduroy and khaki clothes, singing karaoke, and adopting a silly set of euphemisms. Meanwhile, The Man distributes his mind control drug through Boutwell’s fried chicken, infecting other black celebrities and making them act white.

Concerned with Undercover Brother’s unusual behavior, Sistah Girl attacks White She-Devil and convinces Undercover Brother to return to the fight. White-She-Devil turns on her own henchmen to save the two, revealing she has fallen in love with Undercover Brother. They return to the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., where Smart Brother questions White She-Devil about The Man and Lance is officially made part of the group when he declares his desire to abolish bigotry after watching Roots. The group heads to an awards gala after they find out that James Brown is The Man’s next target. Mr. Feather kidnaps Brown and takes him to The Man’s base. B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. secures an antidote for the mind control drug and follows via a transmitter placed on Brown, infiltrating the base posing as a cleaning crew, to rescue Brown and a mysterious “Candidate” that The Man plans to use to land a crushing blow to black culture.

Mr. Feather prepares to administer the drug to Brown and present him as a trophy to The Man, and Brown reveals himself as Undercover Brother in disguise. Mr. Feather sends his henchmen after B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., who discover the Candidate is Boutwell, and is ordered by Mr. Feather to kill Undercover Brother. In the fighting, Conspiracy Brother accidentally begins the building’s self-destruct sequence. The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. cures Boutwell and evacuate him from the building while Undercover Brother chases Mr. Feather to the roof. The Man’s helicopter circles overhead and leaves, The Man abandoning Mr. Feather for failing him. Mr. Feather jumps onto the helicopter’s landing gear as it flies away, and Undercover Brother uses his afro picks to impale Mr. Feather in the buttocks, causing him to fall into the water where he is eaten by a shark. However, The Man escapes. Undercover Brother survives the building’s self-destruct by leaping off the building and using his wide pant legs as parachutes. He and Sistah Girl kiss and leave the island, the world at peace.

REVIEW:

I didn’t know this, but apparently there was an internet cartoon that was the inspiration for Undercover Brother. Strangely enough, if you try to look it up, most of the results that pop up are for this underrated cult film. The question is, what is it that scared people away from it when it was released and why is it not more widely known, if it is such a good film?

What is this about?

In this loopy comedy, a lone-wolf urban hero goes undercover as a preppy nerd to get to the bottom of things when a black general suddenly abandons a viable presidential bid to open a chain of fried-chicken restaurants.

What did I like?

Funky. At first glance, you might think this is a Blaxploitation film from the 70s, what with the music, afros, and whatnot, but that isn’t the case. Undercover Brother is just not with the times. His love for the 70s, though, led to some interesting music choices when it came to the soundtrack. If ever there was an excuse to play 70s funk, with the exception of the beginning of Pulp Fiction or your typical porn music, this was it. Boy does it make all the difference having authentic funk, as opposed to some generic lab music that could have been placed there instead.

Stereotypes. It has long been said that stereotypes hurt, even though they are funny and rooted in truth. Well, without stereotypes, this film would not exist. Take for instance the belief that white people love mayonnaise. I happen to know quite a few that don’t feel that way. Same goes for African-Americans and hot sauce I’ll refrain from mentioning the phallic cigarette example…you need to see that for yourself. Now, the situation UB gets into that exposes said stereotypes are quite hilarious and a big part of the comedy that is used in this film, so if you don’t understand and/or are offended by such musings, you might want to stay away.

Chemistry. When someone mentions chemistry as it pertains to a film, 9 times out 10 they are referring to the spark between the leading man and lady, especially if they have some kind of romantic angle. In this case, though, I’m going to speak on the chemistry between Undercover Brother and his archenemy, Mr. Feather, played by Eddie Griffin and Chris Kattan, respectively. First off, these are both vertically challenged comedians, shall we say, so putting them together opposite each other was a stroke of genius. Throw in their horrendous attempts at kung fu and a few one-liners, not to mention Kattan’s weird way of slipping into “blackness”, and these guys steal the show. You could almost have a film with just them going back and forth at each other…almost.

What didn’t I like?

Wet and Wild things. Denise Richards plays a character called “White She-Devil”. Before you laugh too hard, remember this a satire about Blaxploitation, racism, etc. Richards is best known for 3 things. A)She has always had a body to die for. B). She married Charlie Sheen. C). A certain scene from Wild Things. Even though no one in this film is at the top of their craft when it comes to acting, you can’t help but think that Richards wasn’t cast for her acting ability. This is further proven by the fact that she is lured into a catfight, which led to a shower scene with Sistah Girl. Again, this is nothing but spoof and satire, but it felt out of place, almost like the sprinkler scene in Scary Movie 2. Still, as a red-blooded, heterosexual male, I can’t say that I was complaining about what I saw.

Sitcom ending. In a time gone by, sitcoms would end with everyone gathered in the living room or somewhere, talking about what happened to them over the course of the episode and giving the audience the “moral of the story” For years, even South Park used this trope, as the episodes would all end with Kyle telling a tale that touches the heart of the town. Nothing that extreme will be heard here, but there is a speech after the climax that seems like it belongs in said sitcoms.

Dropping hints. All throughout the film, hints are dropped at something bigger. Be they the paranoia of Conspiracy Brother, the mad plot of “the Man”, the Affirmative action hiring of Neil Patrick Harris’ character, etc. Basically, it is obvious that this was mean for something greater, but that never came, which is a shame, but it is what it is, right?

Undercover Brother delivers on all the laughs, spoof, and satire that it is said to have done. With a soundtrack full of funk and a cast of characters that are sure to make you laugh, this film actually over achieved. I personally think there was too much focus placed on everyone but UB, including Lance the intern, James Brown, Smart Brother, and so on and the rest of the gang. Do I recommend it? My answer is only if you can handle it. No, there’s nothing objectionable in here, save for the aforementioned stereotypes. Give this one a shot sometime! Your laughter will thank me!

4 out of 5 stars 

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One Response to “Revisited: Undercover Brother”

  1. […] place is featured in a film, the colonel is replaced with a general. Remember Billy Dee Williams in Undercover Brother? Well, this general seems to have an effect on the one person of African-American descent in this […]

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