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Undercover Brother

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Undercover Brother

from Film Forum, 06/06/02

On a very different note, Undercover Brother aims only to make us laugh. And it does so by spoofing the unfortunate genre often referred to as "blaxploitation." Eddie Griffin (John Q, Double Take) stars as Anton Jackson, an Austin Powers-ish hero who takes his James Bond-style ladies' man mystique to new frontiers of glitzy '70s fashion.

The commercials and previews had most critics shaking their heads, anticipating another disposable sketch-comedy disaster. Most, however, have been pleasantly surprised, and some are even raving about the film. Several have claimed it is funnier than any of the Austin Powers movies, and audiences gave it a welcome warm enough to have movie columnists talking about a sequel. But religious media critics are preoccupied with criticisms of the language, skimpy costumes, and base humor—things it would be very difficult to avoid in any effective lampoon of a genre fraught with such things.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) finds that the film has some virtues: "Whether poking fun at the white man's attempts to incorporate black culture into his own or skewering many of the black man's images of himself, the film has crossover appeal for audiences of all races. Within this good-natured but sometimes risqué film lies a considerable amount of honesty in the way it ridicules stereotypes. Too often, our perception of an entire culture or race is based on a lack of experiential knowledge." Elliott compliments Griffin and his co-stars. And he notes that the plenteous sexual innuendoes are "equivalent to the films which serve as source material for its spoofs," just as the split-screen effects, slow-motion action, and funky soundtrack lampoon the originals.

The USCCB critic says, "While the colorful costumes and props are a hoot, the threadbare script settles for lowest-common-denominator humor that lacks wit but has comic-book violence to spare."

Phil Boatwright says the film "has some funny moments, but often falters with too many Saturday Night Live-styled skits that blindly stumble around before falling over dead. It has a satiric slant, and even has something to say about race relations, but it relies too heavily on sexual and verbal crudity." Similarly, Paul Bicking (Preview) writes, "Mindless fun may be the idea, but there are better choices for summer recreation than Undercover Brother."

But the newspapers are dancing to that funky music. Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald) says, "It takes some very smart people to make a dumb comedy as outrageously funny as Undercover Brother. The movie isn't just hilarious: It's witty and inventive, too, and in hindsight, it isn't even all that dumb. [Anton Jackson is] a comedic creation, a ridiculous exaggeration. But within his outsize dimensions lies a sense of celebration, too. In its own way, Undercover Brother makes for a thoughtful exploration of the pros and cons of racial assimilation, and by using a softer approach, it manages to provoke more thought than full-frontal assaults like Spike Lee's Bamboozled."

Mark Caro (Chicago Tribune) says, "No one is going to mistake Undercover Brother for high-end cinema. Yet the movie does primarily what it sets out to do. It's breezily entertaining and culturally specific without resorting to gross-out jokes or cruelty."


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