By Matt Kubacki   Published Jun 02, 2002 at 5:09 AM

There's a new hero in town and he's not afraid to say, "I'm black, and I'm proud!" "Undercover Brother" is an hilarious movie firmly rooted in black popular culture with a watchful eye toward the ills of the present.

Based on the Internet series of the same name by Mequon native John Ridley, "Undercover Brother" is part "Austin Powers" and part "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka,," with a liberal helping of James Bond and Bruce Lee thrown in to keep the energy up. And it's energy you need because the laughs are quick and plenty.

Eddie Griffin plays the private investigator Undercover Brother, dedicated to ending racial discrimination and leveling out the playing field from the effects of oppression by The Man. He's a vigilante alternately described as "Macy Gray with pork-chop sideburns" and a "Soul Train reject with a Robin Hood complex."

Along with Griffin's UB are the members of the underground black vigilante group the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., an organization for the betterment of African-Americans in American culture peopled by such characters as Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis) and Conspiracy Brother (Dave Chappelle). The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. provides a forum to seriously and humorously discuss the issues facing blacks in America today and has the James Bond-like gadgetry to set out to solve the problems in the world.

The problems facing African-Americans are many, as are the stereotypes of whites and blacks, which are outed, played with, and -- sometimes -- dismissed. The main plot of "Undercover Brother" revolves around the brainwashing of a leading black figure who, instead of announcing the news of his own presidential candidacy, announces the opening of his signature fried chicken joints.

Undercover Brother and the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. reveal that The Man is behind this plot, supplying a psycho-hallucinogenic mind control drug, and that The Man also has designs on turning the general public, especially the African-American public, into pawns in his white-power game.

When the chips are down and the deep investigating begins is when Griffin shows his acting and comic range. He, of course, goes undercover and becomes a master of disguise. Among others, he plays a Rastafarian caddie to eavesdrop at a country club and an Uncle Tom button-down businessman to infiltrate The Man's office headquarters. However, The Man is too smart for these games and attacks UB's achilles heel -- the desire for a white woman. Denise Richards plays White She-Devil, an agent for The Man who succeeds for a while in thwarting UB by keeping his mind under the covers.

The message of racial unity and teamwork in "Undercover Brother" is predictable, but to get there you go through joke after joke after joke, so the message is not the real point. Where Ridley really succeeds (and Griffin does, too) is in creating a memorable, hilarious and likable character in Undercover Brother, one who has a heart as big as his afro and a dedication to race relations and keeping it real as long-lasting and deep-seated as his 1970s Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

"Undercover Brother" is now playing in theaters everywhere.