Let me start off by saying that I enjoyed "Undercover Brother" a great deal. Perhaps this should serve as a warning, since this DVD was one that I bought and paid for out of my pocket and it was not a screener sent to myself by Universal. Therefore, this is NOT a paid endorsement of the blaxploitation parody starring Eddie Griffin. My initial belief was that this film would be one of those little pictures generally panned by my peers. I was surprised to see that the Rotten Tomatoes website's
Beloved Tomatometer Rating was a surprising 77% from 113 reviews and that will perhaps increase after my review is added and also that the Internet Movie Database found a 6.4 average from 1827 votes. I had feared my peers would drag me into a dark alley and place me in front of a firing squad to subdue my praise of this film's high entertainment value. Well, it looks like others enjoy it too, so you can read my review without questioning my sanity.
"Undercover Brother" is to blaxploitation films what Austin Powers is to James Bond. It is a comedy spoof that both pays homage to the films it ridicules and points out their weaknesses and silliness as well. In the film, Eddie Griffin is Undercover Brother. He is the Robin Hood of the black community. His good doings and attempts to preserve black heritage one day cross paths with the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. and their operations to help bring down The Man and his evil attempts to keep a brother down and bring whitey out on top. Led by The Chief (Chi McBride), the agents of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. consist of head field agent Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle) and their white intern Lance (Neil Patrick Harris) who was hired by the group because of the Affirmative Action program.
The reason Undercover Brother is approached by the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. for assistance is that The Man and his head henchman Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan) have taken over the mind of the decorated and respected General Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams) and are using fried chicken to take over the minds of all black men and women. The General, modeled after Colin Powell, has a chance to become the first black president, but he is now a tool of The Man. Undercover Brother lives up to his name and goes deep undercover to infiltrate The Man's secret operations, but finds his match in ‘black kryptonite,' White She Devil (Denise Richards) and he is converted to a yuppy, khaki wearing black man who is well spoken and no longer in touch with his soulfulness. He must resist the spell put over him by having sex with a white woman and find his pork-chop sideburns and bell bottoms again, so he can break out some kung-fu fighting on Mr. Feather and thwart The Man's fried chicken franchise from ruling the world.
Yes, the premise is silly. Of course, a man can't go undercover and have normal sideburns one moment and then jump out of a window and land with a different set of clothes and sport the biggest afro since "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" and matching sideburns. This is a parody and it is meant to be silly. The soul (yes, I know it is spelled wrong) purpose of this film is to make light of the over-the-top blaxploitation films of the Seventies that starred Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown. This is a film that wants to tickle your funny film and not require you to think too heavily to enjoy a film. This is a film of the same cloth as "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," but in my opinion, it is a superior parody that would translate better into a franchise and have more of an ability to remain fresh and humorous. In a long line of parody films, "Undercover Brother" rises above many of them and is bested by only the greatest of them such as "Airplane."
This well crafted comedy will keep you laughing from the opening minutes to the final scenes. I admit that it will be best enjoyed by those familiar with some of the old kung-fu and blaxploitation films that it references, but even those who have not seen "Enter the Dragon" or "Shaft" will find much of the film humorous. The actors are all nicely cast and a few cameos add value to the film. Chappelle's improvising and Griffin's comedic range well-suit the characters they were cast to portray. Denise Richards is the embodiment of a She White Devil. Granted, there were a few jokes that fell flat, but not everything can be perfect and one or two scenes drug out a bit long and lacked any true comedy. However, this is one of the better comedies I have seen in quite some time and I hope a second helping is somewhere on the horizon and "Undercover Brother" comes back to stick it to The Man at least one more time.
Universal has released "Undercover Brother" in two different formats, a Full Screen variation of the "Widescreen" version. A little sidebar: I went to Circuit City to purchase this film (Our Harrisburg area Best Buy isn't finished yet) and they only had the Full Screen version. I wonder if this wasn't The Man trying to keep "Undercover Brother" out of the hands of those who value a film for its original artistic merit. After all, Circuit City was responsible for the original DIVX and that was an evil plot to keep EVERYBODY down! The Widescreen version of the DVD features an outstanding 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The picture quality shows perfect saturation of its colorful palette and this is a necessity for the digs of our hero. This is a colorful film. The source materials used were perfect and no faults are visible. Detail is top notch, as is the digital transfer. There are a few times when film grain is present, but that is the only noticeable flaw.
The most attractive part of the film's audio presentation is its Seventies Funk soundtrack. The DVD delivers this nicely with both a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and DTS 5.1 mix. The film is a comedy that does contain one or two minor action sequences, but its nature is not that of a dynamically sounding movie, therefore, the sound mixes do not have a lot to do during a lot of scenes and the vast majority of the aural experience is delivered through the front three speakers. The .1 LFE channel is used sparingly, as is the rear surrounds, however, they are used from time to time and the multi-channel surround masterings can be appreciated. Dialogue is clear, and effects are nicely done, but as mentioned before, it is the funk soundtrack that is the greatest strength of this DVD. When music is playing, it is lively and the speakers are used to their fullest.
Billed as a Collector's Edition, "Undercover Brother" contains a SOLID (watch the movie to understand) amount of value added content that starts off with two so-so commentary tracks. The first Audio Commentary features star Eddie Griffin. Now, I'd love to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this commentary track and there were moments when I did, but Mr. Griffin only talks about half the time. There is enough white space to film the sequel between his talking. When he does speak, it is usually worth listening and he does tell some funny stories. He even hinted at a sequel. The second Audio Commentary features director Malcolm D. Lee. Honestly, I fell asleep here. He gives a very technical talk about the filming of the movie, but comes across as being a bit dull. He speaks more than Griffin, but it is hard to remain focused.
A handful of bonus footage is included as well. The first is the Alternate Ending with Optional Director's Commentary. This shows a longer dialogue with Denise Richards involving Oreo Cookies and such that is shown during the film's end crawl. It is a funny moment and worth a quickie. Outtakes set to the sounds of Snoop Doggy Dogg are even more entertaining and showcases some mishaps and dialogue foul-ups. The outtakes run for just under five minutes. Deleted Scenes are aplenty. There are sixteen in all. Some of these range to funny and one or two are actually very funny, but for the most part the correct choice was made when they were left on the cutting room floor. Still, as far as deleted scenes collections go, this is a good one.
The absolute best extra found on the DVD is the Original Short Films Which Inspired the Making of the Movie. These animated shorts were originally shown on the Urban Entertainment web site. This handful of shorts are Flash animations that eat up over twenty minutes of time, but a twenty minutes of well spent time. The web shorts are of slightly more intelligent humor and they outline many of the key points of the film. I was very happy with the fact that the last Flash film hinted at a second season of shorts. In the next day or so I will be checking out the web site to see what's goin' on. If you enjoyed the movie, I can guarantee you will enjoy checking out the beginnings of "Undercover Brother."
A nice collection of standard, run-of-the-mill supplements finish off the offerings of the Collector's Edition of "Undercover Brother." Welcome to the Brotherhood: The Making Of Undercover Brother is your typical HBO-styled talking-heads documentary that praises the film and those involved and tells you it is a good time. There is some humor value to this ‘documentary,' but you won't learn too much from watching it. The Bootsy Collins (He should be in the movie!) and Snoop Dogg collaboration "Undercova Funk" music video can be watched. Bootsy is just too cool for words and I liked the music video perhaps for the reason of his inclusion. A simple Trivia Game Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Filmographies and promotional materials end the list of supplements.
I liked "Undercover Brother" enough that I wanted to spread the word about its comical merits. It is a funny, funny film. Perhaps if enough of you buy the DVD, we can get a sequel! I think I'd like to see a movie where Undercover Brother beats down some geeky British Agent with bad teeth. Those that only enjoy overly-intelligent comedies will quickly dismiss "Undercover Brother," but I feel that anybody looking for a quick and easy laugh will like the film. Universal has done their job in putting together a good package that will appeal to a wider audience. The DVD looks and sounds great. The value-added content is very good as well. I was quite pleased they took the time and energy to give this film a SOLID release and have no problem in recommending it to you.