Judge Mike Rubino doesn't wear crocodile shoes.
"Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrification is only
outmatched by your zest for kung fu treachery!"
Is it possible for an homage to be so well made, so funny, and so intentional that it validates all of the imperfections of the films it's satirizing? If it is, that would be dyno-mite!
Facts of the Case
Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White, Spawn) is a kung fu-fighting, smooth-talking, orphan-loving, pimp-befriending, ex-CIA agent with a gun the size of a toddler and a serious, utilitarian afro. He's a cat you don't want to mess with.
Jive turkeys are notorious for not knowing who not to mess with, and when Dynamite's brother gets murdered, it sends our hero on a hunt for the killer. Dynamite kicks down the doors to a world of cracked-out orphans, Black Panthers, and mobsters, and discovers a trail that leads right back to The Man.
When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez set out to capture the essence of grindhouse cinema, they adapted the technical imperfections of schlocky '70s horror to their own brand of screenwriting and action. It worked to an extent, but those films felt like stylish auteur projects with a gritty, low-fi veneer. Black Dynamite, while in a similar faux-vintage style, is completely committed to not only the limitations of '70s blaxploitation, but also the style and substance of films like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Dolemite, and Super Fly. Black Dynamite's not only successful, but absolutely hysterical.
The film opens with an innocuous commercial for "Anaconda Malt Liquor" before launching into the murder of BD's brother. When we first meet Dynamite, it's through a cocktail of violence and stock footage. Director Scott Sanders (Thick as Thieves) mixes the two so well that it's often hard to tell the difference between new footage and something borrowed from the Sony film library. That's the point, of course, and it's so effective you'll be convinced this hit the theaters alongside The Mack in 1973.
Sanders mentions in the "making-of" featurette that he made the film as if he and his crew were trying to produce the best movie possible, but they just couldn't pull it off. Boom microphones creep into the shots. Every take lasts just a beat too long, leading to plenty of awkward character breaks. One actor can't seem to stop reading his stage directions ("Sarcastically, I'm in charge."). At one point in the film, a goon accidentally gets slapped during a fight and the next thing you know a different actor replaces him via some obtuse editing. Black Dynamite is more about paying homage to the ridiculous atmosphere and logic of classic blaxploitation than it is about landing a joke every 20 seconds.
That's not to say that the film doesn't have jokes; Black Dynamite is perhaps the funniest film of 2009.
Michael Jai White (who also co-wrote the film) has some impeccable comedic timing, and he sells every line with the conviction of a football player-turned-action star (the meta-joke surrounding the acting chops of the dude playing BD). Whether he's screaming about kung fu treachery (while squeezing the mannequin head of a fallen comrade) or leading his group of cohorts through a maze of National Treasure-like logic, White is flawless.
The same can be said for the film's incredible supporting cast. Dynamite's closest ally is Bullhorn (Byron Minns, who also co-wrote the screenplay with White), a pimp with a penchant for rhyming every sentence he screams. Together the two of them run into a number of ridiculously named pimps, militants, and gangsters played by an impressive collection of comedians, actors, and musicians.
Black Dynamite runs a lean 84 minutes, and the film is paced more with sketches and rising action than actual plot development. In fact, BD's main motivation shifts like three times during the film—not that that's really a problem. Towards the end of the second act, the film veers a little heavily towards flat-out goofiness, but it earns the right to every comedic risk it takes; the final beatdown in the Honky House erases any misgivings you may have had about the wandering plot.
It's clear that Sanders and White have a passion for this revered, urban subgenre from the very beginning. The two of them created a trailer for the film without actually having a screenplay, and just about every joke, every action piece, every plot point is a reference or homage to another movie. It's not necessary that you've ever seen a blaxploitation pic to enjoy Dynamite, but the filmmakers' passion for the genre shines through in every frame.
Sanders not only embraced the technical accidents found in the films of the '70s, he also employed the technology from the era. The film was shot on color reversal Super 16 stock, which gives the film enough authenticity to fool the casual viewer into thinking he was watching something found in the $1 rack at Wal-Mart. The film is grainy, the colors are blown out and faded, and the editing is more concerned with hiding mistakes than the art of montage. I wouldn't change any of it. The same goes for the film's outstanding soundtrack: a mix of classic funk and "I'm singing about what's happening" songs by Adrian Younge. All of this is perfectly recreated in standard def DVD, and if there were any transfer issues, you probably wouldn't be able to tell.
Black Dynamite comes with some excellent special features, including 25 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes. Turns out, most of what was cut from the film was plot development, while other scenes were merely thrown into the extended montage sequence in the second act. Also included on the disc is a fairly informative making-of featurette, a Q&A session from the San Diego Comic Con, and a fun commentary track with Sanders, White, and Minns. The commentary track is especially worth a listen as the three point out plenty of jokes I missed the first and second time I watched this flick. The only thing that would have made this disc better is a pop-up video pointing out all the cinematic references.
Black Dynamite is one of the funniest films of 2009. It's a smart, loving tribute to blaxploitation cinema that's more concerned about authenticity and earned humor than a gag a minute. Michael Jai White delivers a roundhouse kick to every crappy spoof film that's come out in the past decade, by producing something infinitely more clever and witty. Don't miss this film.
Don't you worry, little mamma, this film's found not guilty.
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