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Video Reviews

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy, Action/Adventure
Cast
Eddie Griffin as Undercover Brother; Chris Kattan as Mr. Feather; Denise Richards as Penelope Snow; Dave Chappelle as Conspiracy Brother; Aunjanue Ellis as Sistah Girl; Neil Patrick Harris as Lance; Chi McBride as The Chief; Billy Dee Williams as General Boutwell
Director
Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man)
Distributor
Universal Pictures
Reviewer
Bob Smithouser
Undercover Brother

Undercover Brother

Cut from the same polyester cloth as Austin Powers, this racially charged comedy is another retro secret-agent send-up that trades on a steady stream of one-liners, sight gags and other un-PC humor. A secret African American organization called the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. fears that their evil nemesis, The Man, is undermining black culture and trying to turn back the clock on race relations. The agency’s newest member, Undercover Brother, seems stuck in the Shaft era. Big afro. Loud clothes. Funky slang. Platform shoes. Mutton-chop sideburns. Bruce Lee karate moves. He’s also a master of disguise. It will take those skills and more to defeat The Man who, from his island lair, plans to use a chain of fried chicken restaurants to drug the entire black population, turning people into mindless zombies. Most of the film’s humor comes from a playful attempt to mock ignorance, entrenched racial preferences and stereotypes—black and white—while preaching the need for unity and understanding.

positive elements: The film walks a fine line with its racial jokes, managing to rib Caucasians and African Americans alike for their uniqueness without being mean-spirited or unfair. It wants viewers to lighten up and find humor in what makes us different as we try to understand each other and work for the common good.

spiritual content: When an armed intruder decides not to shoot him, Undercover Brother says, "Thank you, Jesus." Conspiracy Brother ponders the color of the Lord’s skin.

sexual content: It’s implied that Undercover Brother and shapely vixen Penelope Snow (aka White She Devil) are involved sexually. Scenes also involve lewd slang, double-entendres, talk of nipples and penis size, and a woman being aroused in a business meeting. During a battle between two clawing females, the combatants wind up stripping away pieces of each other’s clothing, falling into a shower and touching each other sensually while a group of men ogle them. Several songs heard over the action ("Brick House," "Ladies Night," "She’s a Bad Mama Jama," etc.) have sexual themes.

violent content: Frequent hand-to-hand combat includes crunching blows and karate kicks. Women fight with the same moxie as the men. A man hits himself in the groin with num-chucks. A guy is pistol-whipped after being forced to breakdance at gunpoint. A woman shoots two men dead. With the help of an x-ray machine, viewers see a man literally insert his foot in another’s backside. A man is devoured by a shark. Two men in a golf cart are blown to smithereens. Car/motorcycle chases cause bad guys to wipe out. A man is accidentally shot. Mr. Feather attacks Undercover Brother with sharp blades protruding from his sleeves. In a fit of white-hot rage, Lance rips the still-beating heart out of a man’s chest, tears the spine out of another guy, and squashes the head of a third with his bare hands. Messy.

crude or profane language: Although abuses of God’s name are noticeably absent, there are still approximately 50 profanities, including a dozen s-words, one f-word and an obscene gesture. Women are called b--ches. On occasion, black characters use the n-word to refer to one another.

drug and alcohol content: The Chief smokes cigars. While playing the part of a business consultant, Undercover Brother advises a tobacco company to make abnormally large smokes for urban customers. Conspiracy Brother talks about his "weed" and offers a bag of it to Lance, who proceeds to smoke some. The Man uses a mind control drug on General Boutwell, and threatens to do the same to the masses.

other negative elements: Called the "Robin Hood of the hood," Undercover Brother erases bank records to keep poor people from losing their homes. It’s presented as noble, but it’s criminal. Moments of racial humor and playful stereotyping, while not malicious, may offend some viewers.

conclusion: Any film that fires off so many rounds of jokes is bound to hit the bulls-eye once in a while. And Undercover Brother does. In addition to being savvy about its subject matter, it will make audiences of various races think if they’re willing to. Do white Americans only know the black America they see on television? Is there an unhealthy paranoia that causes some African Americans to assume the worst of their white neighbors? The filmmakers think so. Some might argue that the white establishment is unfairly vilified here, but closer examination also reveals subtle jabs at certain African Americans (including celebs O.J. Simpson and former NBA bad-boy Dennis Rodman) for undermining the image and progress of their own people.

Clearly, Undercover Brother wants us to laugh at ourselves, thus chipping away at the "us-against-them" mentality that can exist on both sides. Unfortunately, any attempt at relieving racial tension suffers greatly from the movie’s reliance on profanity, sexual situations, racy dialogue and occasionally harsh comedic violence. Undercover Brother is a clever caricature of the blaxploitation heroes of the early ’70s who tools around in a Cadillac convertible with the license plate "SOLID." But his movie, while insightful, is by no means "solid" for families.

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