Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Black Dynamite" (2009)

Starring Michael Jai White, Arsenio Hall and Tommy Davidson
Written by Michael Jai White and Byron Minns
Directed by Scott Sanders

"Cream Corn, NOOOOOOOO!"
"Black Dynamite" is a ridiculous, hilarious spoof of the "Blaxploitation" genre of the 70s.  It's loaded with stereotypes and racial slurs, but all used for hilarious effect, amping up the absurdity of those films to new heights and also winking at them in a sly manner.

Michael Jai White stars as Black Dynamite, a former soldier and CIA operative who finds out his brother has been killed by "The Man."  When he discovers that his brother was a drug dealer, he declares war on drugs in the ghetto, vowing to clean up this rotten town once and for all... by killing all the drug dealers.  He gathers his posse, including buddies with names like Cream Corn, Bullhorn, Tasty Freeze and Saheed.  Together, they clean up the town and discover some kind of large drug shipment coming into town related to a corrupt politician, Senator James (Tucker Smallwood).  But when they storm his warehouse, they find only cases of malt liquor.  But Black Dynamite doesn't accept defeat, and discovers James is connected to a vast, world-wide conspiracy by the Man to bring down the Black Man.

To give away the various twists and turns of this ridiculous story would just be cruel.  "Black Dynamite" is full of laugh-out-loud moments that come from startling, absurd revelations.  It's also full of more charming, subtle humor.  For example, during what could probably be called an "emotional" soliloquy by Black Dynamite about growing up in the hood and only knowing how to fight, a boom mike enters the top of the frame.  It stays there for the entire lengthy shot, and this would be funny enough, except that the film goes one step further and Black Dynamite actually notices the boom mike, does a double take, and still keeps delivering his lines anyway.  It's absurd, but charming and utterly hilarious.

White plays Black Dynamite with a delivery I didn't think he was really capable of.  I'd seen him in movies like "Spawn" and his small role in "The Dark Knight" but I'd never really seen him do much more than sneer and act threatening (and that's even as a good guy in "Spawn").  Here, he's able to take that similar sort of role and twist it upside down with a wink and a non-smile (trust me, that makes sense in the movie).  The way Black Dynamite will treat the people he loves almost the same rage-fueled way he treats the scum he's taking down is downright hilarious, especially when he apologizes to them afterward (again, that makes sense in the movie, too).

The film is shot and edited in the style of those 70s blaxploitation films, on grainy 16 mm film and a color palette that seems to skew towards orange.  Camera gaffes, poor lighting, editing mixups... it's all here, but this time it's intentional.  Director Scott Sanders has quite an eye for comedic pacing, and Jai's abilities as a martial artist are both put to good use and lampooned.  For every genuinely impressive move, there's another that obviously fails to connect but the thug will go down anyway.  The film has a look of cheapness that's downright hilarious, too.  Witness the scene in the orphanage, which you'd only know was an orphanage because of a sign behind the characters that says "Orphanage."

That orphanage scene is an absolute riot, by the way.  "Ain't nothin' in the world get Black Dynamite more mad than some jive-ass sucka dealin' smack to da kids!"  Watching a ten year old slap his arm waiting for a hit, or another asking Black Dynamite to pimp out whores for drug money... I couldn't stop laughing.

That's pretty much how the whole movie went, in fact.  It's hilarious, through and through.  I'm not very knowledgeable of blaxploitation as a genre, but this was not a problem at all with "Black Dynamite."  This film is funny, plain and simple.  It does for 70s blaxploitation films what "Hot Fuzz" did for big-budget Hollywood action flicks.  The gags are non-stop, and totally hilarious.  Watch this movie.