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With James Bond and his espionage universe being around since the early ‘60s, it was inevitable that a direct parody of his escapades would reach the screen. Most recently, Hollywood produced – in the form of Mike Myers and Jay Roach – the Austin Powers trilogy, a spoof of all-things British and all-things Bond. Now, based on a series of Internet shorts, Undercover Brother has arrived. Spoofing both James Bond (tackling an evil mastermind/corporation) and also the blaxploitation films of the ‘70s, it was ill-received on its theatrical run, bombing at the box-office. But will a new home on DVD change things?

Undercover Brother
The Film
Hipper-than-hip, Afro-sporting superhero-of-sorts Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) stands up for oppressed people everywhere, and looks damn good doing it. But when The Man and his demonic henchman Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan) drug a wildly popular black presidential candidate (Billy Dee Williams), Undercover Brother must team up with the positive underground group the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. in order to restore peace and unity within the community. Employing his seemingly endless arsenal of clever disguises, including the ultra-nerd Anton Jackson, Undercover Brother embarks on his dangerous mission...

It has to be said that right from the start this is a very ‘black’ film – and by that I mean people of the Afro-American race in particularly will grasp it best, due to its lingo and humour (the fact that the majority of the cast is almost all black contributes a lot). Some of the stereotypes in Undercover Brother were met by me with an exasperated sigh, for instance Undercover Brother’s entrance accompanied by ‘Undercova Funk’, as it seems American filmmakers still hold on to some form of racial boundary, and have to flaunt it: even if this is supposed to be a comedy.

The thin, and very whimsical plot, shows a complete lack of dedication to good storytelling. Within the first 10 minutes the audience has been basically told how white is evil, black is good; and therefore we all must root for the latter. Fine, if there had been some semblance to this theory, but in reality there is nothing to hold the film together…apart from the humour.

On the subject of the humour, it is a case of throwing everything at the audience and hoping some of it will stick. Through front-man Eddie Griffin (no, I had never heard of him, either) and the supporting cast, various comic scenarios are played out, but with definitely mixed results. Some are funny, yes, but some others are just plain immature and slapstick – something this film suffers from.

If the target audience is a bunch of young kids, then perhaps I would have less of a problem with the film. But, Undercover Brother is actually quite explicit in places, and I wonder why the BBFC only granted a ‘12’ certificate. The constant mention of marijuana, as well as other innuendos and the odd bit of violence make me think that this would have been better suited for viewing only by a more mature audience. If that had been the case, some real work would have needed to have been done on the film as a whole, as in front of more critical viewers the film’s flaws will be exposed for all to see.

Griffin brings a fair amount of charisma to the role of Undercover Brother, with honourable mention going to Chris Kattan’s very OTT and camp Mr Feather. Denise Richards also turns up halfway through the film, and her curvaceous exterior is enough to hold the third act together (just). However, three actors cannot make a film good that suffers too much in other areas, and although it contains the odd laugh and odd set-piece worth glancing at, there is little – if not nothing – to warrant repeat viewings.

Undercover Brother
Video
A crisp and clean 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer is provided by Universal, and it is of a high quality that consumers have come to expect from DVD. There is good definition between the various colours, and the palette for which is varied and well-represented, and no artefacts are present or dust and grain of any kind.

Audio
Only one soundtrack is on offer – Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), although it suffices. The main audio stream is crisp and clear throughout, with the dialogue being well represented, although there is little use of the surrounds and almost no subwoofer activity. Even though this is definitely a front channel-heavy mix, it is passable, but nothing special.

Extras
Two audio commentaries kick off the extras – the first by director Malcolm Lee, and the second from star Eddie Griffin. They are both insightful and good yak-tracks, making easy listening, but perhaps the best solution would have been to record one track with both contributors; that way their natural banter would have improved it even more. However, the fact we have audio commentaries is a bonus, so I will be grateful…

An alternate ending (with optional commentary from director Malcolm Lee) is provided, but it isn’t great quality – both presentation-wise and also because it just isn’t that good as an ending, focusing yet again on marijuana (the MPAA, America’s certification board, said enough is enough and ordered it to be cut). 16 deleted scenes are also included (again, with optional commentary from the director), and these are at least worth watching. Because the film is very short (75 minutes long!), I feel that nearly all of these should have been added to beef up the final cut, especially since these scenes are quite amusing. A selection of not funny outtakes is also provided as a separate feature.

Undercover Brother
There is a 20 minute making-of featurette, which is OK, but still a bit too backslapping for my liking. Having said that, there are some interesting interview snippets with the cast and crew, and it does try to offer some form of insight into how Undercover Brother got the green light.

The Internet animated series by Urban Entertainment (urbanentertainment.com) is included as well, and they are OK, but not as funny (would you believe) as the film itself…a thoughtful addition, mind.

Snoop Dogg’s music video, ‘Undercova Funk’, which is the signature tune of Undercover Brother, is worth watching, only because it is fairly catchy and made well.

Two trailers round off the package, both fellow Universal pictures – Ang Lee’s Hulk and Rowan Atkinson vehicle Johnny English. The former is more of a teaser trailer for what looks like a fairly uninspiring film, and the latter is an amusing trailer for an amusing film. Yes, Universal’s cunning marketing ploy has roped me in…

The menus are animated with clips from the film and background music. They are designed well, and very easy to navigate.

Undercover Brother
Overall
The film is something that can be watched once, enjoyed slightly, and then forgotten about – hence why I recommend this as a rental-only title. The disc itself is fairly good, but the extras are mainly lightweight, although the two audio commentaries make for good insight. I feel that this film has received too good a package, whereas other, much better, films sometimes are relegated to poor DVDs.


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