Malcolm D. Lee’s Undercover Brother is a witty piece of genre deconstruction that’s curiously drunk on pomo knowingness for both the mofo mystique of ‘70s blaxploitation and the mojo bullshit of James Bond. In combining the white male gigolo fantasy with the black male funk empowerment fantasy, the filmmakers see pop-cultural homogenization as a means of consolidating interracial discord. Anton Jackson (Eddie Griffin) is Undercover Brother, a black Austin Powers sent to fight the Man after an African-American army general (Billy Dee Williams) inexplicably renounces his bid for presidency in favor of opening a chain of fried chicken shacks across the country. Though Conspiracy Brother (David Chappelle) reads Good Will Hunting as I’m Hunting Niggers he’s the first to fall for the General’s punchy TV slogans. With the help of Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan), the Man hopes to poison America’s black population with a mind-control substance found in the General’s poultry. The filmmakers begin with the understanding that stereotypes exist for a reason, using cultural signifiers as weapons for cultural annihilation. The jokes are hit-or-miss and Lee has a difficult time marrying the Austin Powers and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song color palettes into one singular aesthetic, but it’s impossible to fault a film with ideas this big. Mr. Feather suppresses his love for Mary J. Blige, his desire to keep the White House “white” perhaps a sign that giving himself to another culture’s song n’ dance means he’s lost his own individual rhythm. How cool is Undercover Brother? It keeps true to both its Bond and blaxploitation roots, acknowledging that women are sexy and powerful. The film embraces peace and love between the races yet it sees something wrong with facile platforms promoting such harmony (“Ebony & Ivory”) and fighting cultures pausing peacefully just long enough to enjoy a bout of sapphic love.
- Malcolm D. Lee
- John Ridley, Michael McCullers
- Eddie Griffin, Chris Kattan, Denise Richards, James Brown, David Chappelle, Neil Patrick Harris, Chi McBride, Billy Dee Williams
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