Film review by: Witney Seibold
Here is a satire so savvy that it almost – almost – looks like the real thing. Not content to merely call attention to the tenets and risible details of 1970s blaxploitation movies, director Scott Sanders, and star/screenwriter Michael Jai White (from “Spawn” of all things) have called into being a film largely untouched by time; the exact same level of performing, the exact same ridiculous plotting, the exact same fast-then-slow-then-fast pacing of a ‘70s flick, and, most impressively, the exact same shoddy photography and camerawork have all been invoked.
White plays Black Dynamite, a smooth mother, with unimpeachable skills in kung-fu, gettin’ bad guys, and lovin’ the ladies. He has huge pectoral muscles, an impeccable ‘fro, and a league of jive-talkin’ sidekicks who are ready to hop to. He’s an amalgam of all the familiar blaxploitation heroes (Shaft, Superfly, the Avenging Disco Godfather), and one would be tempted to say that he was exaggerating in his performance, but having seen a few blaxploitation movies in my day, he’s actually pretty spot-on. Indeed, when compared to the inimitable Rudy Ray Moore, white seems to be underplaying the role.
The story deliberately goes all over the place, and all points to a grand conspiracy involving drugs and malt liquor. Involved are a cocky pimp named Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), a potentially corrupt cop (Kevin Chapman, taking on the John Saxon role), a concerned activist-cum-love interest (Salli Richardson), a Black Panthers-like uprising, and a visit to Kung Fu Island. The place where we eventually arrive, I will not dream of revealing.
Strangely, it’s when “Black Dynamite” is trying to be broad and deliberately funny, that it begins to falter. There are moments of obvious slapstick, and a few lines of dialogue that take us out of the b-movie vibe that the director has tried so hard to establish; it’s a much funnier film when it’s being a solid style exercise. Case in point, there’s a scene early in the film where the boom mic dips into frame. That’s funny enough. Black Dynamite, while ranting, glances at it, making sure we see it. That’s fine too. Then he glances at it again, ensuring we get the joke. I think it would have been funnier to simply let the mic stay in frame without acknowledgement.
Satires work better, I think, when they stick to the subject at hand, and mock the conventions and details of their chosen victim. “Black Dynamite” is very nearly brilliant in its ability to do this. There are some sublime moments of extreme absurdity (Kung Fu Island?) that call to attention some of the brilliant shoddiness of an entire genre of filmmaking.
At the beating heart of the endeavor is Michael Jai White, an actor I had previously dismissed. White’s performance is perfect, his look and knack for genre dialogue is perfect, and his kung fu chops (pun intended) are unmatched. If he chooses to make more comedies in the future, I will be hopeful for them.