Film Reviews

Black Dynamite Doesn't Spoof a Genre as Much as It Comes Straight Out of Blaxploitation Hollywood

Black Dynamite opens with three drug-dealing pimps lined up outside a limousine. A shadowy man rolls down the window and informs them there's a traitor in their midst. After a few awkward, sideways glances, the pimp in the middle begins spewing poorly executed jive talk with a British accent. That's all the proof the thugs need to send about 300 pounds of lead through his body, and that's all the audience needs to figure out that Black Dynamite isn't a hastily constructed spoof film. It's a carefully crafted homage to blaxploitation that can still entertain those unfamiliar with Richard Roundtree.

Scott Sanders and Michael Jai White created a film that honors the past as much as mocks it. While Mike Myers' wardrobe in Austin Powers was clearly an exaggerated version of the '60s, Dynamite's is slickly authentic. All the details in Black Dynamite are such that it could actually be mistaken for a genuine 1970s-era blaxploitation film, and that's where the genius lies.

The murdered man in the film's opening scene is Jimmy, Black Dynamite's little brother. As soon as the cops get wind of his identity, they go into high alert, knowing that someone has activated a bad-ass, jive-talking, ass-kicking, lady-slaying sex machine. The funky wah-wah music kicks in and we're introduced to Mr. Dynamite midcoitus with a veritable rainbow coalition of beautiful women. White's Black Dynamite isn't a parody of Shaft or Sweet Sweetback as much as he is their contemporary. He spends as much time practicing his "kong foo" on a group of hired lackeys in his home dojo as he does sweet-talking nurses out of their clothes while they bandage his gunshot wounds. Most important to the film (and the genre), Black Dynamite plays by his own moral compass, quitting the CIA when he tires of the politics and telling the police he'll lessen the forthcoming river of blood to a puddle if they'll only tell him who's responsible for Jimmy's death.

Dynamite's quest to avenge his brother's death leads him straight to the Honky House (the White House) and a showdown with the president himself. Along the way, he discovers orphanages filled with heroin-addicted children, uncovers a government plot to flood the ghetto with poisoned malt liquor, re-joins the CIA, cleans up the streets, and finally gets into an all-out fistfight with Richard Nixon. Remember the end of every Scooby-Do episode where the bad guy explains how he did it? Black Dynamite is filled with expositions like this from pimps, pushers, and hustlers with names like Tasty Freeze (Arsenio Hall), Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), and Sweetmeat (Brian McKnight).

The camera work during the action scenes can't keep up as Dynamite throws throngs of thugs through bar windows only to see the same thugs back in the bar a moment later. More than a few tributes to Enter the Dragon and greats Jim Kelley and Bruce Lee make their way onscreen during fight sequences via chest stomps and the labored yelling that sounds like a donkey caught in a food processor. Much like Kelly and Lee, White's "kong foo" isn't the product of editing and wire work; it's genuine ass-kickery.

Director Scott Sanders perfected the technical staples of the blaxploitation genre: dodgy camera work, poor editing, and technical gaffs. Pained, unnecessary zooms that often miss their mark, cuts that are a few seconds too late to catch the line of dialogue, and the frequent cameo by the boom mic give Black Dynamite an authenticity and sincerity that most spoofs lack. During one of Dynamite's monologues, the boom mic bobbing into the top of the shot is so distracting that he stops speaking, glances up at it until it disappears, and continues as if nothing happened.

Black Dynamite cements its place among blaxploitation's heavyweights with Adrian Younge's funky soul soundtrack, which often tells more of what's happening onscreen than the action. When Dynamite is beating up dozens of drug dealers after finding out heroin is thriving in local orphanages, the soundtrack kicks up and explains exactly "He's cleanin' up the streets," and when he's about to be ambushed, the soundtrack carefully warns "You probably shouldn't be here."

Whether you know all major players in the blaxploitation genre or haven't even seen Samuel L. Jackson's turn as Shaft, it's easy to appreciate lines like "I'm sorry I pimp-slapped you into that china cabinet." It at least won't annoy as much as "Shagadelic" did a decade ago. You dig?

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Brett Gillin