The Guilty Pleasures: “Undercover Brother”
As always, I like to introduce pieces under this category by submitting to the reader that no one should ever feel guilty about enjoying a movie, or any piece of entertainment, for that matter. That’s what entertainment is there for – to entertain. Never let societal pressures dissuade you from liking something. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson said something like that.
Undercover Brother, starring Eddie Griffin, Dave Chappelle, Neil Patrick Harris and others, is one of the few movies I will watch to the very end if I happen across it on cable on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It mixes action comedy into the blaxploitation genre in a similar way that Black Dynamite would in 2009; the main difference here is that Undercover Brother focuses more on gags, puns and slapstick, drawing more obvious comparisons to Austin Powers than Shaft, while Black Dynamite turns comedy into a full homage to the blaxploitation genre.
Released in 2002 and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Undercover Brother follows the exploits of the titular character as he joins the ranks of African-American spy agency B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. and battles the forces of evil controlled by The Man.
The Man (an actual character), with the help of his right hand man Mr. Feather (played by Chris Kattan, in one of the only non-SNL roles I can actually stand him in), concocts a plan to discredit General Warren Boutwell’s (played perfectly by Billy Dee Williams, no less) bid to become the first African-American president by using a mind control substance to force him into opening a line of fried chicken restaurants. As B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. gets wind of this plan, they recruit Undercover Brother to infiltrate the organization to stop it from the inside.
So what makes this such an enjoyable movie? I’ll start with some of the performances. 2002 was a pretty early year for the Harrissance (Neil Patrick Harris renaissance – see what I did there?), and this movie shows that he was an unlikely but very welcome source of comedy. He plays Lance, the white B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. intern (an Affirmative Action hire). Take the scene where he shares his revelation after watching Roots. There’s also Dave Chappelle, who plays Conspiracy Brother, Undercover Brother focuses more on gags, puns and slapstick, drawing more obvious comparisons to Austin Powers than Shaft…the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. agent concerned with rooting out nonsense conspiracies and steals any scene he’s in. For example, there’s the sequence in which he witnesses two white underlings receive promotions ahead of him, and he pretty much loses his mind. Finally, there’s the uncredited cameo by none other than James Brown, who gets himself kidnapped by Mr. Feather.
Another reason I love this movie is for all the little gags and one-off jokes. A favorite of mine is the movie’s take on spy gadgets, especially the watch the squirts hot sauce to make the taste of mayonnaise more tolerable, thereby allowing Undercover Brother to maintain his cover. I also thoroughly enjoy a fight scene towards the end in which Undercover Brother goes full Bruce Lee à la Enter The Dragon and stomps on a guard’s chest, crunching sounds and all, only to reveal he was crushing the guard’s potato chips. “I just bought those!”
Undercover Brother is an easy movie to watch. It’s an enjoyable foray into the spy spoof world with great performances and little potshot jokes that work way more often than they don’t. It’s cartoonish aesthetic helps the viewer be at ease with the ridiculousness that occurs onscreen. Never feel guilty about loving Undercover Brother.
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