|For us, blaxploitation never went out of style. There was always room in the CD player for Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie," always room in the closet for a red-velvet pimp hat, always room on the DVD shelf for Rudy Ray Moore in Avenging Disco Godfather. We knew it would all be in vogue again; we just had to be patient. And now our patience has been gloriously rewarded with this weekend's release of Undercover Brother. UB equally spoofs and celebrates the more outré aspects of "black culture" and the dorkier aspects of "white culture," even as it points out how inseparable the two are.
As the movie opens, the sweet, solid Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) is driving his gold convertible Coupe de Ville through the hood. When another car causes the land yacht to go into a 1,040-degreee spin, UB doesn't spill a drop of orange soda, making Steve McQueen in Bullitt look like a sweaty amateur. As the narration by hip-hop legend Chuck D. informs us, Undercover Brother is the last great hope for African-American culture, the influence of which has been in decline since the late 70s, a point underscored by a snippet of Urkel laughing that soul-killing laugh of his.
But UB has a major ally in the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. Led by The Chief and powered by Smart Brother, Conspiracy Brother and Sistah Girl---plus Lance, the white Affirmative-Action intern---the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. gives UB the gadgets, the support and the love interest every super-spy needs.
Of course, every super-spy also needs a villain, and there's none more nefarious than The Man. Always shrouded in shadow, The Man has underling Mr. Feather (Chris Kataan) do his dirty work. In this case, the work in question is undermining General Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams), a former Gulf War general who's being touted as "the first serious black Presidential candidate," by white TV anchors who coo about how "well-spoken" Boutwell is, and how he has a strong chance of winning "--- and not just in urban areas!"
Not all of the humor in UB is so spot-on, though. In particular, Kataan's mugging gets old faster than you can say "Soul-Glo." But Denise Richards is perfectly cast as White She-Devil, the evil temptress sent to bring Undercover Brother to the light side. We've decided that Richards is in on the joke, and has a sort of canniness (we can't honestly call it intelligence) about what her presence in a movie is intended to do.
Some of the jokes are way too obvious. A picture of Danny Glover hanging behind The Chief's desk? Funny. A tight shot of Glover's face in the background as The Chief mourns, "I'm too old for this shit?" Not that funny. But little details in the production design sometimes yield bigger laughs than those in the script. For instance, the picture of Lt. Van Buren from Law & Order on the wall next to Glover? Extremely funny.
Undercover Brother knows it's no Do the Right Thing. UB touches on a variety of racial issues but doesn't explore them in much depth, if only because it's zooming ahead to the next gag. But perhaps laughter makes it easier for people on all sides to drop their guard. After all, how intimidating can a raised-fist Afro pick be when it's flying through the air, assailing the heinie of evil?