You want surreal? You want bizarre? You want a very funny film that crosses the border into the strangely absurd? You got it! Like many WTH films (The Lobster, Brazil, Video-drome, Naked Lunch, etc) this movie operates within an alternate-universe filled with ever-changing billboards, wacky TV shows, and present-day slavery.
Enter the odd world of Oakland and meet Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who’s broke, living in his uncle’s garage, and just got hired at RegalView as a telemarketer. Trouble is, he’s not very good at it… until an older coworker named Langston (Danny Glover), tells him to use his “white voice” (David Cross as Green’s other voice) to sell. What it is he’s selling, we never really know, but pretty soon he’s SO good at it, he’s bumped upstairs with the prestigious Power Callers and using their gold elevators.
This is great news for him as his performance artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), whose earrings are as eclectic as her art. But trouble looms large as Green’s advance-ment is a blow to his fellow workers who go on strike for better wages & benefits. Green has to cross their picket line and that means his former buddies Squeeze (Walking Dead’s Steve Yuen) and Salvador (Superior Donuts’ Jermaine Fowler) are angry. But their anger is no big deal when Green is making huge $$$ selling questionable stuff through a shifty company called WorryFree.
But what Green doesn’t know is that WorryFree, owned by the greedy and reprehensible Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), is actually a modern-day slave labor camp that is bent on world conquest. Lift, taking a shine to Green and his go-get’em attitude, tries to convince the young man to come on board with a unbelievably frighteningly and dangerous DNA experiment. All this while Green is being made an internet sensation for being nailed in the head by a soda can! Oh, and did I mention there’s a TV show called I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me! that’s number one? Yeah, this is one weird movie.
Written & directed by Boots Riley, this makes both his directorial and screenplay debut. Not bad for someone whose only previous experience is in music. You would think that anyone with zero prior skills in filmmaking would turn out a lesser picture, and norm-ally you’d be right. I know, I’ve seen them. There’s no doubt that Riley has a gift; a flair for being behind the camera and writing a screenplay with biting wit and a satirical sharpness to it. He also cast it well with Stanfield from Get Out, who drives this movie with remarkable charisma and appeal. Thompson is also excellent as his moral compass and Yuen & Fowler are terrific as the best friends.
Then you have Armie Hammer who, having already played a despicable slave owner in Birth Of A Nation, ratchets up the sleaze as another type of slave owner. This movie is filled with subtle (and not so subtle) stabs at race, culture, suburban living, and not only holds a mirror up to it, but does it in a Twilight Zone-ish way. It originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and made quite the stir. Do yourself a favor and catch this little gem amongst all the BIG Hollywood movies.
Undercover Brother (2002)
Before Kevin Hart was in every movie made, Eddie Griffin made a showing for a while. In a spoof of the “blaxploitation” films of 70’s, this deliciously funny and outrageously humorous movie poked fun at James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and just about every spy movie ever made.
Have no fear, brothers & sisters, because Undercover Brother is on the job! Eddie Griffin plays UB, a rogue secret agent, playing by his own rules and stopping crime wherever he goes. BUT! The nefarious “The Man” (Robert Trumbull) is on the move! The Man is a powerful white guy that seeks to undermine the African-American community using his wacky lackey, Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan) to mind-control Gen. Warren Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams), who is considering running for president. Using a hypno-drug, they tell the General to open up a bunch of fried chicken franchises!
It looks like the secret organization, The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., needs to recruit UB to help them out in stopping The Man. UB joins them and meets the Chief (Chi McBride), Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle), “Q”-like Smart Brother (Gary Anthony Williams), top agent Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), and token white guy, Lance (Neil Patrick Harris). As UB goes undercover as a new employee at a cigarette company owned by The Man, Mr. Feather assigns their own agent, White She-Devil (Denise Richards) to take down UB.
But as UB and She-Devil start dating, UB starts to employ stereotypical “white” things to keep up the appearance, such as buying khaki pants, singing karaoke, and adopting a silly, nasally-pitched voice. Meanwhile, The Man distributes his mind-control drug through Boutwell’s fried chicken, infecting other black celebrities and making them act white. Concerned with UB’s unusual behavior, Sistah Girl attacks She-Devil, but she turns on her own henchmen, revealing she has fallen in love with UB. They return to the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., where Smart Brother questions She-Devil about The Man.
They find out their next target is legendary singer James Brown! But as Mr. Feather kidnaps Brown and takes him to The Man’s secret mountain base, UB secures an antidote for the mind-control drug and follows via a transmitter placed on Brown. There’s a rousing final fight scene on the roof, but not before Lance saves the day by getting angry and turning into a temporary killing machine, one of film’s funniest moments. The only bad thing about this movie? There was never a sequel!
I’m not sure if the screenplay by Michael McCullers (The Boss Baby) and John Ridley (12 Years A Slave) would pass the mustard today, but it sure was hilarious back in 2002. Thanks largely in part in director Malcolm D. Lee (Scary Movie 5, Girls Trip), the man obviously knows how to shoot comedy, and with a wonderfully comedic cast like this, he probably had a blast. Fast, frenetic, and full of surprises and sight gags, this movie wasn’t that “stupid humor” you see with those low-budget movie parodies. This was smart, funny, and kept it’s footing throughout the film. Griffin carried the movie with ease, showing he was much more than a B-actor.