Modern Grindhouse Classics : “Black Dynamite”

Posted: December 1, 2010 in movies
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"Black Dynamite" Movie Poster

First off, unlike the other flicks we’ve looked at in the little “Modern Grindhouse Classics” series I’ve had going on and off here at TFG, Black Dynamite isn’t so much a thematic or stylistic heir to 1970s-era exploitation cinema so much as it’s a straight-up spoof on it. But it’s a spoof that hits all the right notes and clearly understands not just what made the genre it’s sending up, in this case blaxploitation, so ridiculous, but what made it work, and what made it so damn cool, as well.

Largely the brainchild of co-screenwriter and star Michael Jai White (who’s gotta be on steroids), this 2009 pretty-much-straight-to-DVD feature (it’s gotten a bit of theatrical play on the midnight movie circuit) is a spoof with soul, and it’s clear from the outset that both White and director Scott Sanders have an intuitive understanding of what blaxploitation is all about, and while it’s certainly irreverent, it’s never downright disrespectful, and it’s clear this is truly a labor of love.

White plays the titular Black Dynamite (that’s the only name he goes by,  even at age 15), a bad-ass ex-Viet Nam vet and ex-secret agent who’s gotten tired of working for The Man and now protects the neighborhood on his own as a kung fu private eye.  He kicks ass, takes names, scores with all the ladies — you know the drill. But when The Man kills his only brother, who he had pledged to protect on his mother’s deathbed, starts dealing heroin to the local orphanage, and pumps some funky malt liquor into the neighborhood, he’s gotta fight back, even if the chain of corruption leads all the way to the top — and it does!

Everything you want is here — intentionally flubbed lines, repetitious dialogue, absurd Curtis Mayfield-style soundtrack music that not only gives a concise run-down of the plot but even goes so far as to lay out certain scenes in specific detail, kick-ass kung fu moves, authentic (if purposely exaggerated) 1970s clothing and hairstyles, smokin’ hot babes — and if you’re the type to watch out for cameos, be on the lookout for Arsenio Hall and Brian McKnight.

The action leads from the mean streets to Kung Fu Island all the way to the White (as in honky) House itself,and I’m sorry, but if you can’t get a laugh out of Black Dynamite getting in a martial arts showdown with a surprisingly spry (but ultimately, of course, doomed) Tricky Dick himself, while making time with Pat Nixon on the side, then you’re just plain no fun.

This movie is everything I’m Gonna Git You Sucka hoped it would be and then some, with the key notable difference being that the primary influence on the main character is more Jim Kelly than Jim Brown, and more of the jokes actually work. I’ve also seen some reviewers liken this to a kind of black Austin Powers, but whereas those movies sucked and this one doesn’t, I’m not so sure that the comparison is really all that valid.

What more do you want, people? A pimp named Mo Bitches? He’s in here. A bad-ass sultry ghetto fox named Mahogany Black? She’s here, too. Incompetent white cops and tough-but- good-hearted sidekicks? Check and check. Simply put, Black Dynamite doesn’t miss a beat.

The DVD release from Sony is solid, too, with the pristine anamorphic widescreen picture quality you’d expect from a new release, paired with a terrific 5.1-channel surround soundtrack, and a boatload of extras including the theatrical trailer, a “making-of” featurette tht covers pretty much all the bases, a panel discussion from Comic Con 2009 featuring all the principal players in front of and behind the camera, and a terrific feature-length commentary track with White, Sanders, et. al. So give it a look ASAP — in the spirit of Black Dynamite itself your humble reviewer refuses to pass up on any line that’s too obvious, so I’ll just close by saying this is one dymo-mite! flick.

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