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Brace yourself; the Afro is back and looking for laughs. This time, it's perched atop the head of wannabe movie star Eddie Griffin, whose most notable notes have been big roles in movies that belly-flopped their way into obscurity. But don't let his full-bodied failures keep you from the 70's funkadelic magic of the one and only Undercover Brother.
You see, “The Man” has taken over the system. Since it's peak in the 70's, Black culture has been wussified by the likes of Steve Urkel and Dennis Rodman. Now, the Great Black Hope, a Colonel Powell like presidential candidate, has dropped out of the political arena to open a chain of chicken franchises... with extra hot sauce. Garbed in full-bodied Afro and slick 70's leather, it's up to Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) and the BROTHERHOOD (an organization of black super-spies) to stop "The Man" from further undermining the future of the Black Man.
Fortunately, Griffin has finally struck gold in a mostly hit and occasionally miss screenplay by Michael McCullers, whose credits, perhaps not surprisingly, include work on the original Austin Powers flick. The comparisons are inevitable, and impossible to ignore. Undercover Brother IS little more than the black Austin Powers. Yet, the laughs are undeniable, despite the sometimes-annoying lulls that bottom out between them. Austin Powers clone it may be, but Undercover Brother delivers hard hitting, stereotype ridden comedy, every bit the equal of the original Powers movie.
Whether or not you know anything about the intended targets of Undercover Brother's 70's blacksploitation satire, this Brother follows through with appeal to anyone and everyone. The storyline is typically cheesy and innocuous, as are the villains. But it's all part of the satirical fun as Undercover pokes fun at black icons and modern race stereotypes. Griffin easily channels a hero of that generation, becoming almost a cartoon in his quest for biting bitchslapping humor.
Unlike the Powers films, which Undercover Brother is channeling, this thing could really use some better villains. Chris Kattan attempts to fill that role as "The Man's" chief henchman. However, Kattan is as usual, a mediocre flop, getting mostly pity laughs as he overshoots every joke he's given. By contrast, Denise Richards is grand as the villainous white "She-Devil". Of course she's only there to look sexy, but that's something she does very well.
Whether spinning about in a gold convertible or flaunting the insanity of 70's fashion, flagrancy, and style, Undercover Brother is a highly sheened comedic delight. Griffin is hilarious as are the wonderful assortment of second tier players around him (which oddly enough includes such scene stealers as Billy Dee Williams and TV's Doogie Howser). In fact, the biggest laughs often come outside the lines from things that almost happen in the background. That is Brother's true strength. Much like Airplane, or even Clue, Undercover Brother finds the best laughs laying off to the left of the big jokes and wisely gives us time to savor them.
Yet, my greatest fear is that the genius of Undercover Brother may somehow actually convince people that Afro's were a good idea, resulting in a massive shortage of high quality Afro picks. I think that's a price worth paying for good comedy.