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IN SHORT: The funniest movie of the year. [Rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor, drug content and campy violence. minutes]
Ever since Afro-American culture reached its peak back around 1977, the world has seen a slow, steady decline in everything funky. R&B music became Soul became Funk and devolved into obscenity laden rap. Bellbottoms went the way of the dinosaur and we haven't seen an afro big enough to blot out the sun since way before screening Undercover Brother. Now we have.
There are four kinds of comedy by our last count: slapstick, intellectual, dumb and/or flat out stupid and parody. Those that can make you laugh at anything and everything you didn't expect to are those that are worthy of mention. We walked into Undercover Brother expecting a bad parody of 70s blaxploitation movies and walked out with a big smile on our face. More to the point, we actually laughed out loud at Chris Kattan.
As Austin Powers is stuck in the 1960s, even as he function in present day, Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) prefers to drape himself in the 1970s. He tools down Main Street in AnyCity, USA in a big, gold colored Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible, righting wrongs and attacking evil banks and such who try to keep his people down. One of his "actions" brings him to the attention of the super-secret B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., impressively hidden deep beneath an ordinary, everyday looking barber shop. The Secret Organization of Super-Agents works long hard hours to protect a society in which truth, justice and the Afro-American way can live in peace with the rest of the world. Ebony and ivory and all that stuff. Impressed by the skills of this rogue righter-of-wrongs, The Chief (Chi McBride) enlists UB and sends him into battle against the forces of The Man (Himself). At the Brother's side, and saving his butt at every turn, is his very own "99", Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis). Ace scientist Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams) provides the gadgets and the super-paranoid Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle) watches out for whitey.
Wait. No. Seriously. It's funny. Really. Very funny. Very real world and, in keeping with present day law, fully compliant with Affirmative Action regulations. Thus, the presence of Lance (Neil Patrick Harris), the white intern, who does his best to get down with the bro's.
In the other corner of the ring is The Man and his number one, the evil Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan). Their purpose: To make the world safe for people who pronounce final "t"and "r" consonant sounds. Their plan: To dope the entire African Community with a hallucinogenic psychotropic drug that will strip them of the funk, make them wear plaid and eat sandwiches loaded with <gulp> mayonnaise! The battle ground is the multinational Multinational Corporation, where "Anton Jackson," UB's guise, is employed to come up with more ways to get black folk to smoke. There, Mr. Feather's ultimate secret weapon in the coming battle against UB is the one thing known to bring black men of all colors down on their knees -- a tall, busty, white woman -- Penelope Snow aka She-Devil (Denise Richards).
Yes, it sounds dumb. Yes, it sounds stupid. Yes, it's funny. Seriously. Very funny. The gags come at you so fast and furious that, if you've had any exposure to anything urban in the last thirty years, you'll get whacked silly. For the ultimate plan is to bring down the Godfather of Soul (James Brown, of course), strip him of his groove and destroy civilization as we know it. Only UB can save the day.
More to the point: if you pride yourself on your steadfast ability to avoid anything that does not toe the line of political correctness (or if you're too old to hold the 70s in anything but contempt), this is not the movie for you. If you have more than a passing knowledge of any Top 40 soul/funk hit of the 1970s and an even passing familiarity with black stereotypes, somewhere around ten minutes in you'll get hit with an avalanche of gags which will break the barriers into little bits. Undercover Brother is at least three laughs a page, usually more, which is the old Zucker Brothers (Airplane!) standard. Carefully chosen stereotypes are wheeled out; Bits and pieces of old songs and commercials and movies come at you from all directions and, like an ultimate popcorn movie, the bombardment is like an avalanche of fun. We could sit through and laugh at the same gag again and again because the jokes come so fast and furious our short term memory cache's flushed 'em all out. For those that don't speak geek, that's a good thing.
Spike Lee did a similar turn, making a sharp edged point in Bamboozled. His brother, Malcolm, aims his sights directly at the funnybone, no politics or messages allowed. Jokes are the name of the game and they all come at you from "downtown". The soundtrack alone is stuffed with just about every memorable crossover song from the 70s, though one memorable number from the King of Pop does slip in.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Undercover Brother, he would have paid . . .
You will laugh. Resistance is futile.
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