(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week, we get down with a brand new sequel to an action/comedy from 2002.)
Some people love to argue against sequels as failing to honor the original or failing to bring anything new to the table, but sometimes the bigger issue is their existence at all. (The films, not the people wasting time arguing about movie sequels.) As in, why would anyone make a sequel to 2002’s Undercover Brother? Or, who out there is actually excited to see Undercover Brother 2?
I don’t have the answers to these questions despite years of research into the matter, but as a dedicated and masochistic columnist I have seen the film in question. If you’ve seen the original then you know the premise, but hopefully you’re not too attached to the cast, laughs, or budget as the follow-up is lacking all three. But enough with the chit chat. It’s time to get dirty, ya dig? Keep reading for a look at the sequel that couldn’t even lure Eddie Griffin back… Eddie freaking Griffin! It’s time for Undercover Brother 2.
The Beginning – Undercover Brother (2002)
Black Americans made progress through the Civil Rights movement and on through the 70s, but when advancements came to a halt in the 80s it was clear someone was to blame. That someone was The Man. Obviously. (Although Steve Urkel also played a role apparently?) Fighting the good fight is B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., and their latest mission requires adding a new member to a team that already includes The Chief, Smart Brother, Conspiracy Brother, Sistah Girl, and Lance (a white man who’s there to fulfill the Affirmative Action quota) – that’s right, they’ve opened their doors to Undercover Brother. Together the group discovers a plan by The Man to use mind control against the black community by tainting the special seasoning at a new fried chicken chain, but they might be too late to save James Brown.
The DTV Plot – Undercover Brother 2 (2019)
It’s still the early 2000s, and after helping save Black America from The Man’s devious attempts at mind control and subjugation, Undercover Brother returns to his home neighborhood to enjoy the perks of being him. He’s soon called back into action, though, only to wind up in a coma after an avalanche. Hi younger brother Lionel is left to pick up where he left off in pursuing the newest threat against the world – The Man’s angry gay son who’s intent on infecting the population with a new virus called Woke. It makes you happy, friendly, and aware of the struggles and needs of those around you, but then it turns you violent. Can Undercover Brother’s brother save the day?
Universal 1440, the production arm of Universal Home Video responsible for sequels to beloved Universal Pictures movies (including Backdraft II, 2019 and Kindergarten Cop 2, 2016), has once again gone the extra mile to ensure that the drop in quality is as severe as possible. The original is directed by Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man, 1999; Girls Trip, 2017) and written by Michael McCullers (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, 1999; The Boss Baby, 2017), two talents who had successes both before and after Undercover Brother. The sequel isn’t so lucky as only co-writer Stephen Mazur has any features of note (Liar Liar, 1997; Heartbreakers, 2001) attached to his name – although the past decade has seen him relegated to penning DTV sequels to the likes of Jingle All the Way (1996) and The Benchwarmers (2006).
It’s those changes plus a lack of concern for quality that leaves this sequel a dud, but the on camera talents aren’t exactly blameless. Eddie Griffin take the title role in the original and commits to the character in ways that are unavoidably humorous, but here it’s Michael Jai White who stars as Undercover Brother. But Rob, you’re screaming into the void, how can Michael Jai White’s presence be a bad thing? Well, I reply in a calm and even demeanor, look back at the plot breakdown for the sequel and you’ll see. While White is teased fairly overtly on the cover as the star, his character is sidelined early on and left in a coma until the end. He’s absent more than two-thirds of the film leaving viewers stuck with the seriously unfunny Vince Swann in his stead. As if that’s not bad enough, while the original’s supporting players include Dave Chappelle, Neil Patrick Harris, Chris Kattan, Chi McBride, Denise Richards, Robert Townsend, and Billy Dee Williams, the sequel stars a confused Barry Bostwick as The Man.
How the Sequel Respects the Original
This is always the hardest section of these columns to write as too often the DTV sequel proves itself to be nothing more than a lazy, desperate, highly unsuccessful cash grab. (Yes, Universal 1440 Entertainment has my permission to use that pull quote in perpetuity.) This stinker is no different as outside of a couple characters and the concept of The Man there’s little here that carries over.
How the Sequel Shits on the Original
The main premise of the original, beyond its basic plot, is that it’s a film having fun satirizing blaxploitation, James Bond, and the creative conspiracies that feed the divide between classes and races. It’s no comedy classic, but there are plenty of laughs to be had with its observations and performances. The DTV sequel keeps the framework but mostly jettisons the race angle – an obviously key component of the satire – in favor of mining for laughs around political correctness. The fact that it never finds them doesn’t stop it from trying, hard, for eighty labored minutes.
The decision to go after “woke” culture rather than aim for more fun in the vein of the original or even the superior Black Dynamite (2009) leaves it chasing PCU‘s (1994) tail and trying to make do with what droppings that funnier film leaves behind. The jokes here just don’t work – The Man tells his cohorts he wants to eliminate homosexuals, and the punchline is seeing his flamboyantly gay son enter the room immediately after. Hilarious, right? Did you know hipster cafes are filled with overpriced drinks and obnoxious people? We even get a President Trump reference, but instead of playing that for easy laughs it simply states it as fact. And there’s nothing funny about that.
Look, on the bright side at least we can be grateful that Michael Jai White got a paycheck. If he needs bumps like these while working his way towards the sequel we actually want – come on Black Dynamite 2! – then it’s hard to begrudge him. But he’s a supporting player here who luckily gets to sleep it off while viewers are stuck with performers, characters, writing, and direction that that just suck the life out of the room. It’s not the least bit funny, and its desperation makes it even less so. Undercover Brother 2 doesn’t deserve to see the light of day.
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Source: Slash Film