Undercover Brother does a funny spoof of the cool, the clothes, the music and even the credits sequences of the Blaxploitation film, although ultimately it derives most of its humour from racial caricatures. This is where one gets into somewhat contentious territory. Being white and, moreover, a non-American, I am probably the wrong ethnic group to be reviewing Undercover Brother. It is a film that is hard to write about without allowing American race issues to come into it one way or another. (It is after all directed by Malcolm D. Lee, who is the cousin of Spike Lee, the African-American director who has managed to corner the market on acerbic commentary on American race relations). But that is the way Undercover Brother seems to want to have it.
Black Humour is a genre all of its own that seems to have emerged in the last few years, cultivated by places like the BET channel in the US. It has seen a huge number of stars rise from its ranks, including the likes of Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hugely, Tyler Perry and others. The type of humour pushed by these comedians is certainly a source of controversy, even among Black people. Many like the appeal of finding an ethnic identity and the ability to laugh at themselves it holds, other Black people though dont like the racial caricatures it plays into. Undercover Brother tends to play very much into the caricatures pushed by these stand-up acts that Black men are well-hung, extremely horny and compulsively unfaithful, that they are perpetually in trouble with the law, that they love dope, junk food and lose all sense at the notion of being able to sleep with a White girl. Whether it is playing into racial caricature or laughing at ones own sense of identity is a vexatious question. I dont know it is not a culture I am part of and it is not my place to offer an opinion. That said, the film is more than happy to turn around and voice an opinion about me in caricaturing white people as wusss who have no balls, no natural cool, of artistic tastes that are limited to Friends (1994-2004) and Celine Dion, and even of white peoples food being bland (there is a lot of mileage made out of gags about mayonnaise on food). I cannot say that I felt particularly offended by any of this. On the other hand, you tend to think if the races were reversed in the film and it were an all-White organisation attempting to defend itself from cultural pollution by Blacks and featured a White hero who is seduced by a Black woman and starts listening to rap, gets gold fillings in his teeth, starts gang bangin in the hood and has to be forcibly made to return to his own culture, there would surely be a considerable uproar from the Black community.
All of that said, Undercover Brother is at its funniest during the scenes in the middle when Eddie Griffin is transformed into a liberal White person after being seduced by Denise Richards. The gets some amusing mileage out of seeing him dressed in checkered pants, listening to white funk, blunting his expletives and losing his Ebonics. While the film throws out a few clunkers and at other times overemphasises a joke, it does achieve an amiably geniality all round. The film even throws some blunt jibes in the direction of Colin Powells signing up with the Bush presidency with Billy Dee Williams playing a caricature clearly modelled on Powell, although the film fails to push the satire home as though it were ever-so-afraid of earning the ire of its target (or even The Republicans). Certainly, one thing is clear about the film while Richard Roundtree has a cool that derived from a natural macho virility in the Shaft films, here Eddie Griffin has the afro, the platform heels and the clothes, but only looks a skanky geek, even when trying to parody it.
Malcolm D. Lee went onto make a handful of other film, including Soul Men (2008), The Best Man Holiday (2013), Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016) and Girls Trip (2017). He subsequently returned to genre material as director of Scary MoVie (2013).