Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:23 - Released 5/31/02

You can tell that writer John Ridley enlisted the help of Austin Powers scribe Michael McCullers for the screenplay of Undercover Brother. McCullers, who worked on International Man Of Mystery and The Spy Who Shagged Me as well as the new upcoming Powers film Goldmember, has injected Brother with the same style of tongue-in-cheek humor and cleverly self-jabbing nostalgia. The lead character, caddy-driving, orange soda-drinking, afro-wearing '70s throwback and private eye Anton Jackson, played by Eddie Griffin, is like Austin Powers for the African-American community. Under the direction of Malcolm D. Lee (cousin of Spike), this film is just as silly, just as crammed with humorous period references, and just about as funny as the Mike Myers series. And the soundtrack definitely brings da funk.

The title character is introduced when he unwittingly aids a sting operation being conducted by members of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., the spy agency of, by, and for African Americans. Heading up the agency is The Chief (Chi McBride, Boston Public), who orchestrates the movements of his agents, each with his or her own particular area of expertise: Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams) wears a white smock and hacks into computer systems while spouting highly technical jargon. Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle) harps on his theories of how "The Man" tries to keep the brothers down. And Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), a smart, sexy female agent, is a master of martial arts equipped with lots of nifty spy devices. Also on board is nerdy white boy intern Lance (Neil Patrick Harris), whom the Chief admits he had to hire because of Affirmative Action.

After Jackson is inducted into the organization, we learn that for the first time in U.S. history an African-American could be elected president. A decorated veteran and war hero, the well-spoken and immensely popular General Warren Bautwell (Billy Dee Williams) seems to be the front-runner in the upcoming election. But just as he seems poised to win, he announces that he's dropping out of the race to open a chain of fried chicken restaurants, adopting a southern drawl and an Uncle-Tom-ish attitude. Soon we learn that the general has been drugged with a new mind control formula by "The Man" (yes, there really is one), whose primary agent is Feather (Chris Kattan), a fruity-yet-sinister character whose diabolical schemes include taking James Brown prisoner (yes, the James Brown) and unleashing what he calls "black man's kryptonite," i.e., a sexy white woman (Denise Richards), to foil the Brother and his H.O.O.D.

This movie is just what you'd expect from the talents of those involved. Griffin's style is predictable but funny, and Kattan is his usual over-the-top self. If you like the Austin Powers franchise, chances are you'll like this, regardless of your race. If you don't, we'll, I'd have to say you're just a jive turkey. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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