Black Dynamite: A Film Even Jive Turkeys Can Appreciate

You don’t need to be well-versed in the genre of blaxploitation to love Black Dynamite, one of the funniest and most entertaining films of 2009. It would help in immediately recognizing the archetypes at work, but writer/star Michael Jai White and director Scott Sanders strike such a perfect tone and create such an atmosphere of blissful silliness that I’d wager even if you’re missing some references, you will still find yourself laughing. Sure, the filmmakers have set out to make a “bad” pulpy 70s movie, but unlike Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s failed installment in Grindhouse, they recognize a sense of fun is an essential ingredient, so they keep the pace quick, the quotable one-liners steady, and the action, while purposely stagey, incredibly engaging. Mix it in with a score that parodies the famous blaxploitation scores of old (and also tends to sing what’s happening in the scene as it transpires), and you’ve got a rarity– a comedy that never takes a single misstep.

Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White)– and yes, that’s the character’s name– is a former CIA agent and all-around badass. When he finds out his brother was killed, he rolls back into town to find the perpetrator and lay the smack down. Along the way, he encounters white cops, gorgeous ladies of leisure, and local pimps, with names like Tasty Freeze (Arsenio Hall), Sweetmeat (Brian McKnight), Kotex (John Salley), Chocolate Giddy-Up (Cedric Yarborough), and Mo Bitches (Miguel Nunez Jr.). While battling some folks who try to promote heroin to the black children of the community, Dynamite stumbles upon a plot far larger… and far more sinister… than he ever could have imagined. Could it be the mafia? The white police? The Fiendish Dr. Wu? Rest assured Black Dynamite won’t sleep until every ass is kicked.

The wild thing about this film is that it actually works in its genre. It is cool, and while the fight scenes are funny, they successfully transport you to a different style of filmmaking. Fights in blaxploitation films had actors obviously not punching each other, accompanied by a loud sound effect and an exaggerated response to the invisible impact. Even though you smile at how fake it is, you can still be absorbed into the machismo of it all. There’s a great gag in the middle of a fight scene, where a stuntman accidentally punches a main character in the mouth, and following a quick edit, the fight resumes with a new stuntman as if nothing ever happened. It’s an incredibly silly bit, but it’s treated in such a casual throwaway manner that it gets a huge laugh without distracting from the campy fun of the fight scene.

What’s surprising about Black Dynamite is unlike other films that are parodies or homages, which throw a million jokes at the wall and hope most of them stick, it carefully plots out its gags and one-liners, making it the rare film where everything works. This film toes the line between Grindhouse and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood with great dexterity. It loves the elements that make the genre silly even while poking fun at them. Michael Jai White is in on the joke while also an astonishingly believable blaxploitation hero. Scott Sanders shot the film with retro film stock and used period stock footage in order to give the movie its very convincing visual look. Sanders bragged in interviews that his film didn’t use digitally generated scratching or aging effects like Grindhouse did. Not only is this film vastly more entertaining, it’s more authentic. Black Dynamite couldn’t get a higher recommendation from me. It’s one of the best movies of the year. Seek it out.

~ by russellhainline on February 10, 2010.

One Response to “Black Dynamite: A Film Even Jive Turkeys Can Appreciate”

  1. […] Original Score: 10. Nathan Johnson- The Brothers Bloom 9. Adrian Younge- Black Dynamite 8. Mark Isham- Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans 7. Alexandre Desplat- Fantastic Mr. Fox 6. […]

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