Review

Undercover Brother

EW's GRADE
A

Do not fear the white entertainment media conspiracy: As long as there are the Backstreet Boys and Michael Bolton, Undercover Brother will be defending the African-American way. And the biggest victory so far for Undercover Brother, an animated Net show created and directed by author and screenwriter John Ridley (Three Kings, U-Turn), is that it's become the first Web series to be picked up by a major studio for development into a live-action feature film.

Universal's acquisition might blow a hole in the superhero's theory of a Caucasian cabal, but it also gives online-content creators hope that they too might one day make money by turning their webisodes into movies or TV shows. That day may be coming sooner than you think: Hot on the heels of the Undercover Brother crossover came the news that the BBC America cable channel will air Mondo Media's rollicking animated movie-review program Thugs on Film (www.mondomedia.com), as well as Dotcomix's bawdy animated skit Sister Randy (www.dotcomix.com), in which a masculine nun conducts humorous art-history lessons. And, in a surprise demonstration of the Internet's audience-building power, VHS copies of George Lucas in Love are outselling The Phantom Menace on Amazon.com — especially notable since the nine-minute short can be watched for free at MediaTrip.com.

The site that shows Undercover Brother, Urban Entertainment (www.urbanentertainment.com), paid $10,000 for 10 episodes based on a script that was nearly thrown away during Ridley's last move. Now, according to Urban Entertainment founder Michael Jenkinson, a former VP of feature film production at 20th Century Fox, the company stands to earn a low seven figures if the picture gets made, as well as sharing a cut of any merchandising or soundtrack sales. Ridley could get upward of $2 million — not bad considering he didn't even write a proper treatment.

But then, not every hero can pull off the feats of Undercover Brother. By day, our hero poses as Anton Jackson, a straitlaced office worker who has never heard of BET and is ''smooth enough for white people to trust him.'' But when it's time to battle the Man, Jackson trades his white accent and tie for a giant Afro and a jumpsuit last worn by Kool & the Gang. In the latest episode, Jackson infiltrates the NBS TV network, where corporate bosses have created a fall schedule so demeaning to black people ''that it will get them off the golf course and back into the cotton fields.'' But before Amos and Andy 2000 gets any airtime, Undercover Brother lets his karate loose, making TV safe for an entire rainbow of colors. Not every mission is a success: UB's attempt to free black Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes is foiled when he learns the conservative is, in fact, not being held against his will by white politicians (the hero narrowly escapes being forced to join a country club by whipping out an MP3 player loaded with Sly & the Family Stone).

Despite some wassup-worthy catchphrases, it's a bit hard to imagine such racially motivated plotlines crossing over into a mainstream feature-length movie. But the themes aren't antiwhite — both races get skewered — and this summer's update of Shaft makes blaxploitation ripe for a ribbing. Plus, Ridley's last film was popular despite its patriotic drubbing of the Gulf War. Whether or not the movie version of Undercover Brother comes to fruition, at least 13 more episodes will appear on the Urban Entertainment site — just in time for UB to save us from Kid Rock's new album. A

Originally posted Jun 09, 2000 Published in issue #544 Jun 09, 2000 Order article reprints
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