The blaxploitation genre is one that’s been ripe for the spoofing, and this new Eddie Griffin comedy does it in a style that whilst owing more than a little to “Austin Powers”, nevertheless is one of the few comedy films to come out so far this year that is actually funny and certainly better than the average big budget studio comedy that has been churned out over the last 5-6 years (eg. “Scary Movie”, “The Nutty Professor”). For every three gags that work there’s two that don’t, but the cleverness of the idea behind it, a very likeable cast and slick production values help hide the quiet spots more than usual.
Performances are ‘solid’ – after a series of dogs, Griffin gives his best work in a while and plays a character he’s perfectly adept for. Richards is a surprisingly good comic foil and plays up not only her own image but shows she can hold a tune too in a great karaoke scene. Aunjanue Ellis however leaves the strongest impression as the tough Sistah Girl and is able to swap between hamming it up and playing it straight with ease.
Chris Kattan on the other hand doesn’t click so well as he sadly doesn’t get to do much except deliver some surprisingly unfunny camp lines as The Man’s right-hand guy ‘Mr. Feather’, though he does get one good gag involving a dance sequence (but his hidden black man storyline feels weak). Neil Patrick Harris feels unneeded at first but gets better and better, though Dave Chappelle as Conspiracy Brother remains annoying throughout, especially compared with the greats like “John Laroquette” regular Chi McBride as The Chief and Gary A. Williams as the Q-esque ‘Smart Brother’. Also look out for the under rated young actor Jack Noseworthy as Feather’s aide.
Jokes in this are hit and miss but thankfully a little more of the former. From the ‘not so high speed’ golf buggy chase with a hilarious ending, to the Caucasia-vision training session and opening montages – there’s a LOT of great gags including ‘The Fatty’ cigar to the catfight and the cultural changes (ie. “How Stella Got Her White Man Back”).
However there’s also quite a few that don’t – the barber chair entrance, the non-clicking Billy Dee Williams Fried Chicken gags, the mayonnaise gags, the ‘converted’ brother, and some more over the top references. Funnily enough most of the bad gags flow toward the middle where the story is weakest – the opening and closing 15 minutes are hilarious throughout and will have you leaving the theatre with a smile.
The script has a good concept behind it and makes good fun of pop culture references, however the story feels quite generic and simple (it needed some more work) with ‘The Man’ threat and scheme feeling quite underdeveloped. Direction and cinematography is surprisingly high quality – despite the simple story and some occasionally choppy editing, this has a high production level and ‘film quality’ about it with interesting sets and well incorporated use of classic 70’s music. ‘Undercover’ is a great fun romp, nothing groundbreaking to be sure but perfect light fun that’s easily equal to a certain Mike Myers spy comedy made about five years ago.