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'Undercover Brother'

'Undercover Brother': Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't

Friday, May 31, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Blame it on The Man.

'Undercover Brother'

RATING: PG-13 for language, sexual humor, drug content and campy violence

STARRING: Eddie Griffin

DIRECTOR: Malcolm D. Lee

WEB SITE: www.undercover



He's the one responsible for such inexplicable black icons as Urkel and Dennis Rodman. He's the one who has taken a four-star general (Billy Dee Williams), a hero once considered a presidential candidate -- and given him a mind-control substance that makes him want to open a chain of restaurants. Fried-chicken restaurants featuring "Nappy Meals" and the slogan, "We do chicken right on."

The Man is alive and well and, from the shadows, trying to make the world safe for white people. And it's up to Undercover Brother, Sistah Girl, Conspiracy Brother, Smart Brother and The Chief to ferret out his diabolical plot -- and make the world safe for all people. They're part of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., which has its secret headquarters below a barbershop.

The character of Undercover Brother, here played by Eddie Griffin, was born on the Internet, and the movie has its comic spikes along with its well-worn jokes. The spikes often spring from the costumes and accoutrements -- 1972 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Afros that could rival the ones once worn by Angela Davis or Clarence Williams III, platform shoes that have hidden heights -- while the tired gags are about white people loving mayonnaise and "Friends" and barring Spike Lee from the Oscar circle.

"Undercover Brother," directed by Malcolm D. Lee, is very broad summer fun that clocks in at 80-some minutes. Race relations, a topic that doesn't usually lend itself to laughs, is given the comic once-over. Denise Richards, for instance, plays the "black man's kryptonite" and keeps comparing black men to "The Cosby Show" character Theo Huxtable, while Conspiracy Brother (an excellent Dave Chappelle) sees injustice and intrigue at every turn. "The computer -- another idea stolen from the black man," he insists.

The cast also includes Chris Kattan as an acolyte of The Man, Aunjanue Ellis as Sistah Girl, Chi McBride as The Chief, Gary Anthony Williams as Smart Brother and Neil Patrick Harris as the token white intern.

The plot of this movie is like a webbing thrown over a series of jokes or sight gags about everything from blaxploitation pictures, Big Gulps and gratuitous girl catfights to James Brown's stature as the godfather of soul. It betrays its beginnings as an Internet series designed to provide more cartoonish, bite-size bits of entertainment.

"Undercover Brother" has its moments -- just not enough of them.

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