I don’t think I was alive when Blaxploitation films were in vogue. The genre that was engineered to appeal to Afro-American tastes by accentuating the virility of the Black leads, portraying White people as the enemy and using Funk and Jazz soundtracks became passé towards the end of the 70’s – about the time I was born. Though these films are dead they at least continue to live on in spoofs of the genre, like Black Dynamite. Fortunately for newcomers to the genre, the filmmakers play the comedy straighter than they do over the top, allowing audiences to appreciate the charms of the source material as well.
Black Dynamite stars Michael Jai White as the titular hero who returns to the mean streets of his youth after his younger brother is gunned down during a meeting with “The Man” whose despicable plans include flooding the neighborhood with smack and using malt liquor to rob the Black Man of his most fundamental power source. Fortunately, Black Dynamite isn’t your average vigilante; he’s an ex-CIA commando who packs a 44-Magnum and practices his own brand of Kung Fu. Men want to be him. Women want to be with him…in groups. Black Dynamite joins up with allies Kotex (John Salley), Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson) and a group of militants to put an end to The Man’s evil plan, even if that means killing suckers and chumps all the way to the “Honky House.”
The comedy in Black Dynamite is genuinely funny, because the filmmakers wisely chose to play down the spoofs. The film still accentuates certain characteristics of the Blaxploitation genre – mainly the shoddy filmmaking — but they’re not over the top and the subtle touch only helps to heighten the laughs. At one point, Black Dynamite stands up suddenly to deliver a speech only to find the boom mike hanging just within view next to his forehead and he can’t help but keep glancing at it while he talks. Later in the film, a bad guy eludes Black Dynamite in a bright red Porsche only to drive off a cliff, at which point the film inserts stock footage of a completely different car. Other tidbits, like corny dialogue, actors changing mid-scene and the ubiquitous chorus that chants Black Dynamite’s name every time he enters a room will have audiences laughing out loud in spite of themselves.
Unfortunately, the comedy flies off the tracks about two-thirds of the way through as the plot inserts ridiculous revelations that force the characters to leave the city and venture into exotic places like Kung Fu Island. This segment seems tacked on as an excuse to pay homage to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, starring Jim Kelly – who was a Blaxploitation actor in his own right. There’s also an interminable scene where the heroes sit around discussing Greek mythology that is neither interesting nor funny. The climax is also so off the wall it seems like a bad Saturday Night Live skit got loose and jumped into the movie.
The look and feel of Black Dynamite is stunning and the filmmakers did an excellent job capturing the intrinsic values of the genre. Director Scott Sanders wanted to present Black Dynamite as a pristine print of an old film and shot the movie in Super 16 Color Reversal Kodak film stock. The effect will transport viewers to another era where the colors are desaturated, the music is appropriately funky and the slang is hip and cool.
While spoofs are typically not star vehicles, it will be surprising if Michael Jai White isn’t considered for lead roles in bigger industry films after his great performance here. White’s comedic timing is spot on, his acting is perfectly nuanced for the role and his martial arts skills are impressive to behold. He also simply looks amazing, with a physique that should be leading more Hollywood blockbusters.
Black Dynamite isn’t a perfect film, but it’s actually funny without being mean spirited. The film’s comedy will appeal to the intelligent and the low brow. Its biggest selling point, however, is how unique it is. You probably haven’t seen a spoof done as well as Black Dynamite and won’t see a spoof presented at this level for some time to come.