Before 90% of internet traffic went to only four sites, before the dark times, before the empires of Facebook and Google, the early internet was a funky place, full of ideas and creativity. Among the many creative videos the early internet spawned was the pre-YouTube series Undercover Brother, written by John Ridley - the same John Ridley who wrote "12 Years a Slave", The Wanda Sykes Show, and Barbershop.
Ridley's Urban Entertainment sold the rights for the Undercover Brother series to Universal in 2000. According to reports, it was the first Internet-based project to get picked up by a major film studio.
In 2002, comedian Eddie Griffin starred in Hollywood's version of the popular web series. Directed by Spike Lee's cousin, Malcolm Lee, Griffin's movie captured the spirit of comedic rebellion. It was witty, quotable, and light, but still carried a strong socio-political theme. It was a Parliament-Funkadelic album on the big screen. It had a fight-the-power message you could laugh with. It had songs by Snoop Dogg and Bootsy Collins and a cameo by James Brown. It could not be any funkier.
Undercover Brother was a classic.
Fast-forward to 2019. 16 years after Undercover Brother dueled Mr. Feather and The Man, Hollywood green-lighted Undercover Brother 2. Written by comedian Ian Edwards and Stephen Mazur and directed by Leslie Small, the movie went straight to DVD/Netflix without passing go and without collecting $41 million in the theater.
That should be a warning.
The best way for me to sum up Undercover Brother 2 is to say that it's existence is a plan by The Man to diminish the legacy of the first movie.
It is bad. It is not as bad as Joe Dirt 2, How High 2, or the Shaq-Fu video game, but it is close. After you read this review, my suggestion is to forget Undercover Brother 2 existed.
But because I bought Undercover Brother 2 on DVD, I am going to cover what I liked, what I didn't like, and where those responsible for this travesty dropped the ball.
(Spoiler Alerts Ahead, if you care not to have this rotten movie spoiled.)
What I liked:
New supporting agents: Sarcastic Brother and Harvard Brother were decent replacements for Conspiracy Brother and Smart Brother - on paper. In the movie, however, nothing can equal Dave Chappelle's litanies against The Man. Conspiracy Brother fueled the concept of The Man as intangible bugaboo that controls everything. The jokes for Sarcastic Brother were not written half as well. If written better, these new agents had a chance to equal the original.
(I wonder if Undercover Brother 2 could have done another Conspiracy Brother being that conspiracy theories are now all 4Chan/QAnon/Illuminati conservatives who believe the all-powerful Deep State is trying to drive America into a One World Government.)
What I didn't like:
Casting: Michael Jai White is awesome in action movies. He is also well-known as Black Dynamite, another socio-political classic about fighting The Man. Why was he cast as Undercover Brother? This is like casting Robert Downey Jr as Superman. Robert Downey Jr will always be Iron Man and Michael Jai White will always be Black Dynamite.
While Michael Jai White did have a few martial arts scenes, which is a great use of his abilities, there was not enough to make casting him worth the confusion. There are probably many African-American comics who could have fit the role better.
Personification of The Man: In the original Undercover Brother, the director made sure never to show who The Man was. Viewers saw his hands, but there was always a shade on his face. That effect enforced the idea that The Man was an omnipotent, all-powerful entity. It was brilliant.
Undercover Brother 2 not only gave The Man a face, they misused the character completely. They made The Man a person, not a thing to fight. By making The Man a person, they evened the roles of antagonist and protagonist. There was a reason Mr. Feather took the fall in the first Undercover Brother movie. Undercover Brother could fight Mr. Feather but he could never topple The Man. That was the point of The Man. The forces of good are always defending against The Man, yet they can never defeat him. And what would Undercover Brother do if he topple The Man?
My last complaint with Undercover Brother 2's misuse of The Man is that The Man is pigeonholed as an old racist American white man. As a concept, The Man is far more than that. My recent book, The Man Makes You Work: How the Rich and Powerful Hold Down Everyone, explores the fact that The Man is an omnipotent eternal global negative force that prevents people from reaching their goals. In my book, The Man keeps his mystery and power.
Concluding with Undercover Brother's new night club: Horrible. After foiling The Man, Undercover Brother could have been like Black Panther and opened up a cultural learning center. Instead, Undercover Brother and his brother open a place that does not contribute to their neighborhood at all. Where is the positivity and social growth there?
Undercover Brother's brother's relationship with the Chief: While it was great that the BROTHERHOOD had a female chief, the affair between the Chief and Undercover Brother's brother was useless. It was awkward and made no sense. There was no reason for it. If anything, it diminished the Chief's role as leader for her to engage in a relationship with one of her agents.
Manson: As a character, The Man's son was completely unbelievable. He had no goals. There was also no point in his random gun shooting or drug addiction.
Russian Woke AF: When the original Woke drug is destroyed, Manson (Son of The Man) creates a plan to import more social dividing drugs from the Russians. Given the presence of Russian disinformation in our current politics and Russian goals of dividing people in nations all over the world, this was an awesome idea. It could have made a Vladimir Putin-type character an agent of The Man and made the movie international, moving it beyond holding down American minority groups. Instead, the idea was tossed away in 5 minutes and nothing came of it. Frustrating.
Not using breweries: The antagonist in Undercover Brother 2 uses coffee shops to distribute his Woke drug to cities. This echoed the fried chicken gimmick in the original Undercover Brother. But to make plot more realistic in gentrified areas, the antagonist could have also distributed the Woke drug through breweries, possibly specifically using IPAs as the distribution device. While that would have been similar to Black Dynamite's use of malt liquor to poison the populace, it would have expanded The Man's reach of his drug to urban populations.
College infiltration: Colleges are supposedly where people are the most socially conscious. Not playing up the idea that political correctness of college campuses has run amok missed a huge opportunity. Perhaps Undercover Brother could have used a historically black college marching band (FAMU, Bethune-Cookman, Howard, etc) to funk up a campus of arguing students. This idea could have also led to a great George Clinton or Bootsy Collins cameo.
"Shaquille O'Neal" punches: One of the funniest parts of the original Undercover Brother was how Eddie Griffith shouted names when he connected a punch or kick. Nowhere in Undercover Brother 2 was that done. That should have been an easy carry over joke.
Overall, Undercover Brother 2 was very underwhelming. It was the result of many bad decisions. And I made a bad decision in buying it.