Black Dynamite is No Jive Turkey (Film Review)
Black Dynamite was simply the funniest movie I’ve seen this year. The blaxploitation spoof delivers everything from basic slapstick comedy to inside jokes about the black experience, and is all the more hilarious if, like me, you appreciate the outlandish nature of the spoof genre (Airplane!, Naked Gun), but also have a fascination with classics like Coffy, Shaft, and Black Caesar. Although the campy nature of 70’s black film is the running gag and wears a bit thin over time, the movie is an ideally complete and accurate parody of a characteristically ridiculous, yet undeniably significant genre of black film – call it the I’m Gonna Git You Sucka of 2009.
Michael Jai White is Black Dynamite, a former CIA agent with bad threads (bad meaning good), bad fighting skills (bad meaning good, again), and a really bad mustache (bad meaning bad). After his brother is killed in the mean streets, Black Dynamite sets out to get revenge while ridding the hood of heroin and malt liquor, meeting a classic host of pimps, thugs, Black Panthers, and hoes along the way. In the tradition of Fred Williamson and Jim Brown, White is also a sex machine with the ladies but has a special affinity for Gloria (Salli Richardson), the too black and proud good girl whose afro is as big as her heart. In the end, Black Dynamite uncovers a “honky conspiracy” and throws down in fight scenes with everyone from crooked cops to Richard Nixon. Sound kind of familiar? It should, because as writer White intended, Black Dynamite follows the same plot as just about every blaxploitation film ever made. Those unfamiliar with the genre will only get the jokes on the surface level, but there is enough classic spoof humor to keep even the clueless entertained. Thanks to this film’s intentional ridiculousness, however, don’t bother trying to follow the storyline, just sit back and laugh.
Director Scott Sanders seamlessly recreates the shabby look and production quality of the original genre, but instead of overlaying cracks and pops in the film quality to make it look dated (as in Tarantino’s Grindhouse), Black Dynamite relies on a dead-on wide-collared wardrobe, sharp 70’s black vernacular, and a funky soundtrack. The true strength of Black Dynamite is the supporting cast, with especially hilarious turns from Tommy Davidson as the permed-out weasel Creamed Corn, Arsenio Hall as head pimp Tasty Freeze, and Byron Minns as Dolemite-inspired sidekick Bullhorn. Even perennial stinkers Bokeem Woodbine and Miguel Nunez add spark to the film in bit parts, which is further held together by the always-funny Cedric Yarbrough (Reno 911) and super-silly Kym Whitley. Part of the fun of Black Dynamite is identifying random black actors, and the over-the-top fight scenes are fantastic thanks to White’s seven martial arts belts. Yes, he really breaks bricks and does most of his own stunts, so what more can you ask for?
The only downside to Black Dynamite, aside from the eventually tired running joke and the often vulgar representation of women, is its potential for cultural misappropriation. Don’t get me wrong – black entertainment should be for everyone’s enjoyment no matter what age or background. But similar to the “I’m Rick James, bitch!” craze of a few years ago that sent Dave Chappelle packing to Africa, lines from Black Dynamite will probably be quoted ad nauseum by frat boys and soccer moms who don’t exactly “get it.” The Black Dynamite Talkin’ Jive Soundboard will inevitably lead to all the wrong people saying all of the wrong things, and the Black Dynamite Yo’ Self avatar creator just might lead to a few of your white Facebook friends popping up with doctored photos featuring hair that looks like yours on their heads. It’s a mild irritation that doesn’t trump the importance of a successful film written and directed by black entertainers who don’t usually get much shine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Black Dynamite will be released on October 16 in major markets, and if you do check it out make sure to take the R rating seriously and don’t bring the kiddies. Still interested? Watch the trailer below.