Thursday, November 12, 2009

Movie Review: Black Dynamite

Black Dynamite *** ½
Directed By:
Scott Sanders.
Written By: Michael Jai White & Byron Minns & Scott Sanders.
Starring: Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite), Tommy Davidson (Cream Corn), Arsenio Hall (Tasty Freeze), Kevin Chapman (O'Leary), Sean Christopher (Nipsy), Deidee Deionne (Afroditey), Brian McKnight (Sweetmeat), James McManus (Richard Nixon), Byron Minns (Bullhorn), Phil Morris (Saheed), Tucker Smallwood (Congressman James), Nicole Sullivan (Patricia Nixon), Nakia Syvonne (Euphoria), Mykelti Williamson (Chicago Wind), Bokeem Woodbine (Black Hand Jack), Cedric Yarbrough (Chocolate Giddy-Up), Roger Yuan (Fiendish Dr. Wu).

When Blaxploitation films began in the early 1970s they were about giving a voice to a minority that had been marginalized in society and in the film community. A film like Melvin Van Peebles Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was a film that struck out at feeling pressured and hassled by the police or “The Man” as the filmmakers saw it. As these films got more and more popular, directors like Gordon Parks and Jack Hill began to take the films in different, more violent and sexualized directions. When the movie studios got a hold of this genre, they turned it into a ridiculous genre full of stuff so far over the top that no one could take it seriously anymore, and the genre pretty much died. It lives on today in old VHS and DVD forms, as afiniados like Quentin Tarantino continue to bask in all the cheesy glory that was the Blaxploitation movement.

Black Dynamite is certainly not the first movie to poke fun at the genre (Keenan Ivory Wayans best film remains his spoof I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and Malcolm Lee did it in the underrated Undercover Brother), but it is undoubtedly the best send up the genre has ever had. The film is made in the style of those old films. The look of the film is deliberately crude - we can see scratches and the occasional hair on the film, and the boom mike is clearly visible at several points. The humor of the film comes from the fact that it plays it completely straight. No one is straining to make anything funny in the film. But it is hilarious because of just how cheesy it is. They never take things too far, but just far enough so that we know they are in on the joke.

The story of the film is about Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White), Vietnam war hero and former CIA agent, who grew frustrated by the Man’s rules. He is now a one man army, protecting the streets of LA. When his little brother is murdered, he swears vengeance. His investigation takes him from one lowlife drug dealer to another, eventually leading up the chain of command to the CIA, a corrupt congressman, the Fiendish Dr. Wu, Kung Fu master (whose skills are still no match for Black Dynamite’s) and eventually all the way to Richard Nixon himself. The film finally reveals the real reason why Nixon sent those men into Watergate.

Michael Jai White is brilliant as Black Dynamite. He looks perfect with his giant afro and huge mustache, sporting the biggest guns imaginable. He never meets a woman that he cannot seduce in a matter of seconds. He is more Shaft than Shaft. The rest of the cast fills out there roles to perfection, down to the smallest role. The are brilliantly terrible. The movie provides subtle jokes like one of the characters saying “Sarcastically, I’m in charge” (as in, he is reading the stage directions as well as line itself), and dropped shots like when someone accidentally really hits the person he’s in a fight with.

There is hardly a cliché of the genre that Black Dynamite does not poke loving fun at. There is clearly an affection for the genre here. It is in every frame of this film, from the opening montage, to the animated sequences, to the kung fu fighting, to the final image of the film. Black Dynamite is one of the best comedies of the year.

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