review for Undercover Brother on AllMovie

Undercover Brother (2002)
by Josh Ralske review

Undercover Brother is a genial and sporadically amusing silly comedy that reeks of missed opportunity. Like previous attempts to parody the blaxploitation genre, including Keenen Ivory Wayans' I'm Gonna Git You Sucka! and, to a lesser extent, Louis C.K.'s underrated Pootie Tang, Undercover Brother affectionately recycles tropes from the era of Sweet Sweetback and Cleopatra Jones, to little purpose. The film also recalls 1975's little-seen George Armitage-penned Darktown Strutters, from which it lifts its fast food/mind control story line. Director Malcolm D. Lee may have a fondness for the root material, but he seemed more in his element directing the modest romantic comedy The Best Man. His pedestrian staging of the film's many slapstick bits and sight gags is certain to leave some viewers frustrated. For example, the catfight between Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis) and White She Devil (Denise Richards) works much better as a throwaway gag in the trailer than in its overlong, awkwardly staged complete version. It's still funny, but it could have been funnier. The energetic, but nuance-free Eddie Griffin was a questionable choice for the title role; as the basis for the film, the Internet cartoon series by co-screenwriter John Ridley maligned the retrograde racial stereotypes of Griffin's TV series Malcolm and Eddie on more than one occasion. The cast is generally appealing and Dave Chappelle gets a few big laughs, but the comedy is played a bit too broadly and it grows tiresome despite its brief running time. Most disappointingly, the film's satire of the racial stereotypes in American culture seems unnecessarily soft. This is in contrast to Ridley's far more trenchant work on the web. The live-action film manages the questionable feat of being more cartoonish than its animated forbear.