"Undercover Brother" is an example of a fantastic idea that, while occasionally incredibly hilarious, isn't quite consistently funny enough to be that memorable. A riff on the 1970's blaxploitation comedies (and a bit of a take-off on "Austin Powers" - it's actually co-written by Mike McCullers, one of "Powers"'s screenwriters) that definitely doesn't take itself seriously, the film stars Eddie Griffin as Undercover Brother, who is recruited by the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. to stop the evil plans of "The Man" and his assistant, Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan).
As the film begins, an African-American general (Billy Dee Williams) is about to enter the presidental race, but a mind-controlling drug leads him to decide to open a "chain of fried chicken restaurants" instead. Although UB goes undercover at a corporation to see what he can find, he is charmed by White She-Devil (Denise Richards), much to the annoyance of his partner, Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis).
The film really focuses on the character of Undercover Brother and his co-workers (which include Conspiracy Brother, played by Dave Chapelle in a scene-stealing performance). While this is certainly a good thing in a way, there's really not a whole lot of story going on, as while Kattan's villian is on-screen for a while, he seemed to be gone for most of the middle of the picture, which left the picture without a villian. This is especially unfortuate in Kattan's case; while he usually annoys me, he seemed like he was on his way to creating a potentially amusing bad guy.
Still, there are positives elsewhere. Richards is far more entertaining here than she was as a lost-looking Bond girl in "The World is Not Enough". Neil Patrick Harris is also very funny as the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.'s sole white intern. Once again, though Chapelle steals most his scenes and although Griffin's funny, part of me thinks that Griffin should have had Chapelle's role and the other way around. The great Chi McBride (who needs to do other things than that "Boston Public" TV show - he deserves better) is solid as the head of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. organization.
Overall, I liked the picture. It wasn't as consistent as I would have liked (the first half is funnier than the second), but it's a good attempt that has the right idea about how to play the comedy. Another solid directorial effort from Malcolm Lee (Spike's brother) after the fun and good-natured romantic comedy, "The Best Man".
VIDEO: "Undercover Brother" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The colorful film certainly translates well to DVD on this edition from Universal. Sharpness and detail are excellent, as the picture appeared consistently well-defined and crisp, with no softness.
The only noticable fault in the picture that I spotted was some minor edge enhancement, which only popped up in a couple of scenes. Other than that, the print looked fine and only a few slight traces of compression artifacts were spotted. Colors looked bright, well-saturated and nicely rendered, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "Undercover Brother" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. Given the fact that this is a comedy, there's really not much of a need for terribly aggressive audio use. In terms of sound effects, there's a few "whoosh" sounds, but other than that, the audio is largely front heavy. The music, however, does occasionally get reinforced by the rear speakers, but not to a great degree. Audio quality is top-notch, though: the music had a solid amount of bass, while dialogue remained crisp and natural sounding.
EXTRAS: The disc's main extras are a pair of commentary tracks - one by actor Eddie Griffin and the other by director Malcolm Lee. The Griffin commentary is okay, but Universal should have considered either pairing the actor with the director for one track or editing the actor's comments in with Lee's. Griffin does offer some mildly funny jokes about what happened during the making of the movie and some amusing riffs on things that happen in the film, but there are stretches of silence and not a whole lot of information offered overall. Lee's commentary, which does a fine job of chatting about working with the actors and the production issues that came up, is a better choice.
Moving on, sixteen deleted scenes are offered with director's commentary and a few minutes of outtakes are also available. Chapelle's inspired improvs are the best thing about the outtakes, while the deleted scenes provide a few funny moments that maybe could have stayed in. The original "Undercover Brother" animated shorts that aired on the internet can also be found on the DVD.
Rounding out the DVD are: a 21-minute "making of" documentary, a trivia game, trailers for "Undercover Brother" and "Empire", production notes and bios.
Final Thoughts: "Undercover" starts off wonderfully, but doesn't always sustain the level of inspired comedy it starts off with. Still, great moments can be found throughout. Universal's DVD is superb, as it offers excellent audio/video quality, along with a few solid supplements. Recommended for fans, a rental for those who haven't seen it.
The Film ** 1/2