Sunday, 3 February 2013

Black Dynamite



Black Dynamite is a 2009 blaxploitation action/comedy spoof written by and starring Michael Jai White. Although my knowledge of blaxploitation cinema extends to what little I’ve picked up during some light reading and watching Jackie Brown, Black Dynamite is one of the funniest and most enjoyable films I’ve seen in recent years and I’ve now seen it five times. Black Dynamite is a pitch perfect pastiche of the genre that it imitates and takes special care in making sure that the look, direction, acting and mistakes are done just right. It is a film that I’ve recommended to several people, all of whom have laughed their way from start to finish and I’d recommend it to anyone, regardless of age, race or gender.

Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is an ex-CIA Agent/Kung Fu expert who leaves a trail of satisfied women and battered crooks in his wake. When his brother Jimmy is killed by the mob Black Dynamite goes back into service to catch his brother’s killers, clean up the streets and generally kick ass, ya dig? Along the way Black Dynamite gets the help of several members of the community from Pimps to Black Panther members, seducing and reducing as he goes.

When I first saw Black Dynamite about three years ago I was amazed by how much I laughed. So much thought went into the character names, dialogue and general spoofing of the genre that the movie fits more gags into its 80 minute runtime than a whole retrospective of Adam Sandler’s work. The movie is very aware of the blaxploitation genre and its limitations and uses that to its advantage. Stock footage is used and repeated and at times technical mistakes are deliberately made. In one scene Black Dynamite stands up only to have the boom in frame. Despite trying his best to ignore it, he can’t avoid giving it a brief and disappointed look. The acting is also purposefully bad. One character reads his stage directions as well as dialogue so in answering Black Dynamite’s question “Who’s in charge here?” states “sarcastically I am”. The dialogue is excellent and keeps to the stereotype. Words and phrases such as jive turkey, dig it, outta’ sight, and cats are liberally scattered throughout and BD’s way of talking to women is incredible. I’ve never seen a woman react so positively to being called a bitch.

The pastiche goes further still and in one fight scene the action is cut when an actor breaks character to complain that a punch connected. After a brief jump cut it is obvious that a stunt man now stands in the actors place. Even the film used is typical of the genre. The movie was shot on Super 16mm and has a warm tint to it as well as a grainy look and the odd scratch and imperfection. It is obvious that a lot of care went into maintaining the 70s feel and even for a film with a limited budget, there is never any suggestion that what we are watching was filmed post 1979. The interiors are lavishly decorated with wood panelling and lots of orange and gold while the few exterior shots are careful to keep things looking just right. The costumes are absolutely brilliant and Black Dynamite in particular looks exceptional. He is the epitome of cool and even when wearing some seriously weird clothes still remains one hell of a cool cat.

Black Dynamite is, like a lot of top comedies, easily quotable. The line “Hahaha, I threw that shit before I walked in the room!” is probably the most famous and funniest line but others such as “There’s no I in revolut… team” is also great and “Shhh, you’ll wake up the rest of the bitches” is an early line which perfectly sums up BD’s character. The film is full of quotable lines though and the script is excellent from top to bottom. Even the character’s names are funny and fit with the imagined world. There are Pimps called Tasty Freeze, Cream Corn and Mo Bitches as well as Gangsters Chocolate Giddy-up, Chicago Wind and Black Hand Jack. Honeybee is the big momma madam and there are surprise appearances from Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon, the latter wielding nun chunks. Michael Jai White seems born to play Black Dynamite and had been hosting blaxploitation parties for year before the film went into production. His icy cool exterior, bad ass kung fu and perfect line delivery add up to one of the best comic characters of recent years. The supporting cast are also on the whole very good and pitch their performances just right.

The movie has a fantastic soundtrack which features songs written by Adrian Younge. Heavily influenced by the funk and soul scores of the films’ Black Dynamite is parodying, many of the lyrics also recount what is actually happening on screen. This works really well but is also quite subtle. In addition to the main score the title song is brilliant and its chorus of a woman singing “Dynomite!” is used almost every time BD walks into a room or says something cutting for dramatic and comedic effect. This is a great addition to the movie.

I’ve wanted to see a Black Dynamite sequel for years and one is still being muted as being at the scripting stage. Until one appears there has since been a graphic novel based on the character and an animated series. That series hasn’t been shown here in the UK so I can’t comment on it but the movie features a highly amusing animated sex scene and the closing credits are also excellently animated and feature the animated Black Dynamite kicking, punching, shooting and kung fu-ing his way through the end credits. If the animation is anything like that then I’m sure it’s great. For me Black Dynamite is a fine example of a well judged and well made spoof movie and even my lack of blaxploitation knowledge wasn’t able to hamper my enjoyment. It is devilishly funny, really well scripted and features a terrific central performance and I urge any reader to track it down. 

9/10  

Titbits

  • The prosthetic penis worn by Gunsmoke is actually a flesh coloured baby's dummy/pacifier.
  • Several porn stars feature in the movie in walk on and speaking roles.
  • Continuity gags can be found in Honeybee's tears and Creamcorn's shoes.          

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