Hollywood's latest stab at neo-blaxploitation is a surprisingly funny and likeable film that delivers more often than not and overachieves considerably considering its one-joke premise. It works as both a highly entertaining film and an effective parody/homage to the blaxploitation era.
Based on a web-based animated series created by screenwriter John Ridley, Undercover Brother was directed by Malcolm D. Lee (cousin of Spike), who previously directed the outstanding 1999 buppie comedy/drama The Best Man. The film stars Eddie Griffin as the titular black secret agent, who works for the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., a secret cabal fighting against the influence of The Man.
Undercover Brother follows 1988's I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and last year's highly underrated Pootie Tang as mainstream Hollywood comedies dedicated to honouring/imitating blaxploitation pictures. But if Pootie Tang was a black version of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, then Undercover Brother is more patterned on Austin Powers, with a '70s black sensibility standing in for 'Powers' '60s British vibe. What Undercover Brother is not is one of those lame, scene-by-scene parody hackjobs like Scary Movie; rather, it's very original and very funny.
The script (by Ridley) is based almost entirely on racial jokes, which somehow straddle the line between offensive and lame (more often than not, they're at white people's expense); you can tell the filmmakers aren't going out of their way not to offend, yet they manage to avoid it anyway. The action/fight scenes are well-done as well, especially on the occasions when Griffin uses an Afro pick as a weapon.
Griffin, who has shown no indication whatsoever in his previous work that he is able to carry a film, delivers a surprisingly winning performance. Griffin's facial expressions and all-around on-screen presence rescue otherwise-floundering scenes at several points. The rest of the cast is strong as well- Chi McBride parodying his Boston Public gravitas as leader of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., Dave Chapelle as a the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. member, and Neil Patrick Harris as the group's white intern.
Newcomer Aunjanue Ellis is very good as female lead Sistah Girl, though Denise Richards gives her usual laughably bad performance as a female She Devil. Billy Dee Williams gets to have fun parodying Colin Powell, and Chris Kattan does the best he can playing The Man's assistant, a character simultaneously trying to hide his inner blackness and inner gayness.
Despite the requisite amount of juvenile jokes, Undercover Brother is a comical gem that handles racial humour as well as any Hollywood film in recent memory.