If you’re just joining us for the first time, you need to know a few things. I’ve been hollering about Black Dynamite since I saw the first trailer last year. I came into 2009 boldly proclaiming it my most anticipated movie of the year and not too long ago, Ars Nova paid for ad space on this here website. I’d like to assure you that their fine-ass treatment of Cinema Suicide, what with a series of promotional packages and a brief paid ad campaign have, in no way, colored my opinion of their movie. I guess there’s an upcoming Federal Trade Commission rule that says that I have to get all this out of the way. Even before the tee shirts and cash money, I was way excited for Black Dynamite.
Revival cinema is all the rage right now and there are plenty of people shooting spoofs of extinct genre styles. They shall remain nameless but there have been a few blaxploitation pictures shot over the last few years and they’re no good. From frame one of the Black Dynamite trailer, I could see that this was going to be a pitch perfect send-up with all the right moves. It looked as though the script had gone through the hands of Melvin Van Peebles, Ossie Davis, Richard Pryor and Rudy Ray Moore and had been shot on some reels of found 16mm that had been manufactured in 1971 and set to a lost soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. In short, this was every blaxploitation picture ever made crammed into 90 minutes of pure hilarity. I wasn’t too far off the mark.
Black Dynamite is a buffet of blaxploitation themes and it’s a little hard to keep up with since it lurches wildly from cliche to cliche but the entire movie surrounds the death of Black Dynamite’s brother at the hands of the man. A single bullet casing, “some heavy shit”, takes Black Dynamite to all corners of the underworld. Black Dynamite shakes down his old CIA pals, a bunch of bitches, pimps, hos, playas, hustals and militant brothers. He helps an orphanage that has been overrun with heroin and has all the kids addicted. He recruits all his old street pals to go up against some white people who have a plan to chemically shrink the penises of black men around the world and his road to revenge eventually takes him to Kung Fu Island and then on to the White House. Yes. This conspiracy goes all the way to the top.
Michael Jai White never struck me as a capable or noteworthy actor. Sorry, bro. Please don’t roundhouse kick me. I’ve seen him in a bunch of movies without ever really having realized it. Remember Spawn? Remember who played Spawn? I rest my case. You had to think about that one for a second, didn’t you? But Black Dynamite has changed my impression from the ground up. Michael Jai White has turned in the most ass kicking comic performance of 2009. No one comes close. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it right now because now more than ever, this simple truth applies. Comedy is hard. This is remarkable in this instance because the funny people of the world, the genuinely hilarious, are hard at work in stinky, sweaty writer’s rooms cranking out scripts for prime time and the silver screen and they’re being paid handsomely for it. They’re practiced comedians. They know what they’re doing. Indie screenwriter’s do not have the luxury of practiced comedic timing. They’re often basing their comic scripts on what they happen to think is funny and when your writing team is director Scott Sanders, whose directorial and writing credits include a couple of features you’ve never heard of and a couple of episodes of A Different World, the odds are stacked against you. Add to this that co-writer credits go to Michael Jai White, best known for some voice work and a shit ton of bad movies, not to mention a pronounced history of punching people in the throat in front of a camera. Let’s take it a step further and compound this with a writing credit to Byron Minns, the actor who plays the Dolemite knock off, Bullhorn in the movie and has no other writing credit to his name. Have I set your expectations accordingly? Are your arms folded and your brow furrowed? Good, because I am about blow your fucking mind.
Black Dynamite is not only the top comedy of 2009, it’s my pick for best movie of 2009. We’re close enough to the end of the year and the movie is so gasp-inducingly funny that I can confidently predict that by the time the new year rolls around I will not have seen a better comedy. Every second, every god damn second of this movie is dripping with comic potential and not a second is wasted to elicit real laughter. White’s capacity for comic timing is unmatched and in a movie that could have easily come off looking like a forced spoof of Wayans Brothers proportions winds up feeling natural and organic. Scenes where the boom sneaks into the shot are handled without missing a beat as Black Dynamite, mid-statement, is distracted only long enough to draw your attention to the microphone which is bearing down on his forehead. Other top notch scenes are aided by the appearance of Arsenio Hall, who has been absent for far too long, Tommy Davidson and Reno 911’s Cedric Yarbrough, whose pimp, Chocolate Giddyup, is a brief but very high point in the entire feature.
Black Dynamite’s script takes absolutely every angle that has ever been used by any blaxploitation movie ever made and manages to cram it into a single picture. You get shades of Slaughter, Gordon’s War, The Mack, Sweet Sweetback, Shaft and Dolemite. Though it may be a righteous salute to macho tough guys on the street, the picture isn’t without its badass female lead, Afroditey, played to absolute Pam Grier perfection by Deidee Deionne. Let it be known, that Black Dynamite’s script doesn’t make a lick of sense, but did any of these movies make any sense? Often times they were empowering celebrations of downtrodden black men slipping through the fingers of the established system and making money or righting wrongs in the face of white oppression; a big black thumb in the eye to stupid old white assholes everywhere. The scripts didn’t have to make sense, you just had to have your wiley or ultra tough hero somehow triumph in the end and that’s pretty much what Black Dynamite does. While it starts out a revenge story as Black Dynamite hits the streets trying to find out who killed his brother, it somehow manages to end up in the oval office with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln laying a karate chop on Richard Nixon while Black Dynamite backhands Pat Nixon into a fully stocked china cabinet and somehow this has something to do with spiked malt liquor meant to bring the dongs of black men down to a size not so intimidating to white men. How we get from point A to point B is still a mystery, my friend.
Black Dynamite is a film that is not, under any circumstances, to be missed. Michael Jai White shines in the lead and carries, with the able hands of his cast mates, a picture that could have easily slid into schlocky and awkward territories. Unlike many spoofs that either take cruel jabs at a genre that is, admittedly, very hokey and silly, it approaches the source materials with the same adoration that many of us blaxploitation fans have. It is as in love with the general washed out, cheap aesthetic of blaxploitation and mines every single cliche and stereotype for all the laughs. If you like blaxploitation, like I do, or if you like comedies… Fuck it. If you like movies you should probably do everything you can to catch a screenining of Black Dynamite as it is destined for cult greatness.