He’s righteous, he’s solid, he’s the Robin Hood of the hood, he’s Dolemite meets Maxwell Smart come to save what’s left of black culture from all those undermining Urkels and The Man.
Four-star General Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams) is on his way to being the first black presidential candidate — until he’s injected with a drug that turns him into a chicken-frying, stereotypical, kiss-ass, politically harmless lackey for the Man, who wants to keep the White House white. The Brotherhood is disgustified. They need some new blood to battle Operation White-Wash, so they call for Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin), defender and propagator of the height of black culture, the ’70s, and birth matrix of Shaft and the Afro.
Undercover Brother is a fashion maverick, his full-capacity Afro atop a sleek package of shiny snakeskin ’70s suits with razor-sharp shark-fin lapels, and Eddie Griffin wears that well. Griffin swings from lover to lethal weapon easily, able to grasp “unassuming nonchalant” as well as “over the top of the Coupe de Ville” attitudes, playing a brother capable of anything. His mastery is matched by the creative direction of Malcom D. Lee (cousin of Spike Lee), who sucks you in with a laughing, adventurous camera, like his opening shots of Undercover Brother spinning multiple 360s in his Caddy. Lee shoots from above and centers on Brother’s orange Big Gulp with the car whirling around like a blazing sun of hope in a crazy culture-clashing world, and not a drop gets spilled.
There’s no “Afro-American speak” in this flick — everything’s all black and white with a healthy and necessary attitude poking a funny stick at everybody’s peculiarities.
Written by John Ridley (Martin, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”), Brother’s dialogue is clever and catchy, with so many tongues in cheek it’s amazing any words are understood. There is a cache of lovable characters, like “don’t touch that chip on my shoulder” Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle), the culturally conflicted No. 1 flunky of The Man, Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan), and Black Man’s Kryptonite Penelope Snow aka White She Devil (Denise Richards).
Undercover Brother is a master of disguise, able to “blend in like a good weave,” equipped with a hot sauce-spraying watch to battle the white man’s dreaded mayonnaise, fork-lift platform shoes and Afro picks that become deadly metal-pronged missiles.
There’s no question that without Austin Powers it isn’t likely Undercover Brother would have happened, and glory be to good god for both!
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].