February 3, 2010

Black Dynamite

If there is one way to describe Black Dynamite, I would have to call it ridiculously bad ass. Seriously. This movie is so goofy and over the top, yet played so completely straight that you cannot help but laugh. Think of Austin Powers if it was played straight and was made to look more authentic. Take the spoof nature of the Mike Myers film and blend it with the sensibilities of Grindhouse, particularly Tarantino's Death Proof, and you will have an idea of what Black Dynamite is all about.

Now, what I know about blaxpoitation films you could fit in a thimble. However, even without that knowledge, Black Dynamite is hilarious. It has that 70's grind house vibe. It has an authentic look and feel that hearkens back to low-budget films of the era. The screenplay is intentionally corny, the cuts do not always match, background actors appear in many different roles throughout the film. It is crafted with an eye to the details (well, maybe not) to totally nail the feel of the era while simultaneously paying it homage and poking fun at it.

Michael Jai White stars as the title character, a Vietnam veteran and retired bad ass CIA operative. He is dragged back into the game when he learns that his little brother was killed while dealing drugs. Combine hat with the fact that drugs are being dealt at the local orphanage and it is too much for our hero. He is a man of action and he gets back in the game to settle the score.


The plot is patently ridiculous. I mean, it starts off seriously enough, but then the fun comes as we watch it completely fly off the rails leading to a climactic face off that is utterly ridiculous and totally awesome at the same time. I am not going to get into any of the plot specifics, you really need to see them for yourself. Besides, I don't want to be the guy that ruins the jokes for you. Don't worry about getting the blaxploitation references, you will still laugh at the super serious delivery of corny lines, clothes that look like drapes, awesomely bad staged action, and some of the biggest Afros you'll ever see!

The cast s filled with appearances by familiar faces including Arsenio Hall, Bokeem Woodbine, Miguel Nunez Jr., Brian McKnight, Mykelti Williamson, and Roger Yuan. However, it is Michael Jai White's solid performance that brings it all together. He embodies the bad ass righteousness of the era in which the film is set. This is probably the most charismatic I have ever seen him be in a movie.

Directed by Scott Sanders, the film has a distinct look and a great pace. I was surprised to find this was only his second directorial effort, the first being 1998's Thick as Thieves (starring Alec Baldwin). He has a keen eye for framing here with some great angle to go along with Jai White's Dynamite poses. The movie is in constant motion and always has that old school feel to it. From the transitions to the camera moves, to the film stock used.

The screenplay was penned by Michael Jai White, co-star Byron Minns (he plays Bullhorn), and director Scott Sanders. The screenplay is filled with homages to the films of the era starring the likes of Rudy Ray Moore, Jim Kelly, Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier, and Fred Williamson. At the same time, the film has a sly intelligence, knowing when to stick close to the formula and when to steer into absurdist territory while retaining a steady tone throughout. Very funny stuff.


Audio/Video. The video is presented in a ratio of 1.85:1. I would say that the DVD looks amazing, but I would be lying. Instead, the best way to describe the movie is to say it looks like it is supposed to look. This is not a squeaky clean big budget Hollywood release, this is a low budget look back at the blaxploitation era that attempts to be genuine and accurate to the era, meaning the colors are off, it does not always show great detail, and it looks like an old movie. Think about what Tarantino was trying to do with Grindhouse and you have an idea of the look.

The audio, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, is the same story as the video. It is always clear and audible, but it has the atmosphere of an old film and therefore is not terribly lively. However, it does the job required of it and it fits the film.

  • Commentary. The track features Michael Jai White, Scott Sanders, and Byron Minns. It is a good track that finds its participants in a good mood, laughing and having a good time commenting on the film and the production in general. It is a good listen.
  • Deleted and Alternate Scenes. More than 25-minutes worth of extra footage. Funny stuff here.
  • Lighting the Fuse. This takes you into the development of the film, where the idea came from, how it was developed, casting, and more. It is actually quite interesting, it helps that they are all pretty entertaining guys.
  • The Comic-Con Experience. This is the panel held at the convention and moderated by Elvis Mitchell. Again, it is worth watching, you can sense the enthusiasm they have for the project.
  • Previews. Trailers for Blood and Bone, The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Defendor, Bu the People: The Election of Barack Obama, Transylmania, Halloween II, Moon, Soul Power, Michael Jackson's This Is It, Breaking Bad, Zombieland.
Bottomline. Black Dynamite is infinitely quotable, endlessly funny, and one of the best satire/spoofs to emerge in recent memory. It is a real shame that it did not get the opportunity to win fans over on the big screen. This movie has a lot of positive energy, you can tell they had an enormous amount of fun while shooting it. Do yourself a favor, watch this, laugh, repeat as necessary.

Highly Recommended.

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