Blaxploitation is a genre that has a strange aura surrounding it. For those unaware, the subgenre stemmed from the success of flicks like Shaft, Dolemite, Superfly,The Mack, and Foxy Brown, all of which featured similar qualities. For one, they all had funky soundtracks, some of whom were scored by greats like Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. They also had strong protagonists that fit black stereotypes of the 70’s, jive talk, big afros, flashy suits and bad attitudes. And perhaps the best part of the trend was the fact that blaxploitation flicks were made on the cheap, so forty years later we’re treated to terrible acting, bad choreography, swapped actors, boom microphones in the shot…I can keep going on and on about famous errors in the genre forever if I wanted to, but I won’t! Because in 2009 martial artist and actor Michael Jai White spearheaded a spoof/tribute in Black Dynamite, and my lord, is it great.
Jai White stars as the titular Black Dynamite, an ex-cop, ex-army officer, and current ladies man and pseudo private detective. He’s essentially the biggest bad mother (shut your mouth) of all time and everything revolves around him. The events of the flick start with a drug deal gone wrong thanks to a snitch, a bumbling man revealed to be BD’s brother Jimmy, who is quickly gunned down. This lone act kicks Black Dynamite into a spree, as he has to find Jimmy’s killer and clean up his streets.
From the get go, the comedy is laid down hard, but done so in a truly unique way. In a lot of action comedies (Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop) we have comedic actors playing comedic parts for laughs, look at Seann William Scott in The Rundown for chrissake! In Black Dynamite however, every actor plays their parts as if they are in a serious movie. There are no beats left for laughter, no jokes that are allowed time to soak in. The gags are either meant to be taken as serious bits that are unintentionally funny, or just errors that couldn’t afford to be fixed. In that seriousness this movie goes from a Scary Movie style spoof to tribute to. The chain of events is absurd enough to work with comedians as stars, but in the same vein it could easily have starred any blaxploitation stars of the 70’s and been released to relative success back then.
Pictured: Black Dynamite vs. The Fiendish Dr. Wu
Now, aside from BD we have a handful of hilarious characters, first there’s the always rhyming Bullhorn (Byron Minns), the slick well dressed Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), militant leader Saheed (Phillip Morris, Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld) and the apple of BD’s eye Gloria (Salli Richardson). Though to be honest, none of them are really clearly defined, more than likely on purpose. And that certainly adds to the fun, as characters like Cream Corn disrespect and run away from BD just to apologize and be openly accepted back into the group. For a killing kung fu machine, Black Dynamite is very forgiving to his fellow brother. However, as great as the ensemble may be, this is Dynamite’s movie and he gets most of the focus. Jai White plays him perfectly, a mix of always on the verge of breaking someone in half, sharp tongued, straight faced and a just a dash of legit crazy. And he actually can destroy people, so he’s not just a goofy funnyman put in an action role a la Mike Meyers in Austin Powers. As an avid comedy fan this mix of buff badass and legit comedy chops is a rare thing, and Jai White really worked hard to achieve that status. Props to him for that.
Action-wise Black Dynamite is decent at best, but on purpose. There are a whole ton of fights that just get stranger and stranger, and they all have BD kicking ass and taking names. We see him kung fu-ing a group of ninja goons in what turns out to be his weekly kung fu class, he chases Cream Corn around the city from roof to roof just to have the man apologize to him as I mentioned previously, and BD even kills a rival with a boomerang he threw before even entering the room! However, it’s the escalation of these fights that make them fun. Black Dynamite is consistent in the kicking of the ass, it’s just the ass he kicks gets more and more ridiculous as the fight goes on. It turns out cleaning up the streets is a lot more ridiculous than he thought, and it’s not just drugs poisoning his fellow brother. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say the conspiracy leads all the way up to the top of the American ladder, and when it gets there, Black Dynamite has to throw down.
So while Black Dynamite might not offer up the best action, it’s homage to a classic genre and it’s sheer absurdity make it worth your time. I wouldn’t just go review a movie with weak action on this blog without reason! The movie is so awesome that it’s spawned an Adult Swim cartoon that’s on every Sunday at 11:30 PM! Watch it! It’s good! The movie…and the cartoon!
Speaking of Black…lets keep this hybrid thing going and get to the damn veggies with the Men In Black! And with Men In Black the Damn Rankings are getting an injection of….CGI!?!?
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Michael Jai White, Tommy Davidson, Byron Minns
(All images and video are copyright Destination Films)