Last of the Monster Kids

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Friday, March 31, 2017

BLAXPLOITATION MONTH: Black Dynamite (2009)

I can't remember when or how I first heard of “Black Dynamite.” I just know that, as soon as I found out about the movie, I had to see it. When I finally did watching the film, I laughed my ass off. Buying it shortly afterwards, I would watch the film over and over again, laughing my ass off even more every time. “Black Dynamite” became an absolute favorite of mine, the kind of film you show new girlfriends to see if they really “get” you. Sitting down to watch “Black Dynamite” again, probably for the one hundredth time, was somehow a new experience. After watching a month of blaxploitation classics, the spoof's homages and references became even more apparent. Let me tell you the truth: This movie gets funnier every time I watch it.

Black Dynamite is a former Vietnam commando and CIA special agent. He's a kung-fu master, a legendary lover, a brilliant tactician, and all-around the biggest bad ass in the world. Maybe the universe. When his nephew Bucky is killed in a drug deal gone bad, he's enraged. After seeing the orphanage overrun with smack, he's stymied. Black Dynamite declares war on anyone who sells drugs to the community. With his team of sidekicks and black militants, he quickly obliterates the local mafia. Yet the evil scheme goes deeper than that. It goes all the way to the top. As Black Dynamite attempts to destroy this evil empire, he'll go from the L.A. slums, to Kung Fu Island, to the White House.

“Black Dynamite” was the baby of star Michael Jai White, director Scott Sanders, and screenwriter Byron Minns. All three are big fans of blaxploitation flicks. Together, they perfectly replicated the look and feel of seventies soul cinema. The film is grainy, the colors slightly exaggerated. The camera movements are sloppy, scenes lingering just a little longer than they should. The editing is harsh, the acting stiff. Continuity gaffs, reoccurring stuntmen, obvious stock footage, and the boom mic all make guest appearances. Classically trained actors are called upon to speak street jive. Moreover, “Black Dynamite” brilliantly weaves in references and homages to real blaxploitation flicks. The villain's master plan recalls “Three the Hard Way.” A fight in a pool hall is a direct quote from “Black Belt Jones.” A character named Cream Corn is an Antonio Farqus-inspired dandy. Black Dynamite's pal Bullhorn raps his dialogue and incompetently karate fights, like Ruby Ray Moore. In fact, Moore's films were an obvious inspiration to “Black Dynamite” and are referenced throughout.

Yet “Black Dynamite” isn't just a series of perfectly recreated homages to blaxploitation films of years past. It's also full of uproarious absurdity. Some of these are related to the faux-shoddy production values. A stuntman stumbles out of a still moving car. An incompetent actor speaks the script's stage direction in his dialogue. What's even funnier than that is Black Dynamite's confused, irritated reaction to this. Other gags are just brilliantly silly. Like the Captain Kangaroo Pimp. Or a man in a doughnut suit meeting a suitably circular fate. Black Dynamite fools his enemies by putting a bear in a chair and pretending to take a shot. Via animation, Black Dynamite's loving making skills reach a cosmic level. One hilarious scene has the heroes making a series of increasingly unlikely leaps of logic, figuring out the evil scheme via obscure factoids. (When an old lady joins in, I officially couldn't breath anymore.) Even little gags – Black Dynamite's laughter carrying over from a montage or the hero casually shooting two evil goons – get huge reactions. Practically every joke is a home run.

At the center of the film is maybe my favorite comedic performance of the last decade. As a character, Black Dynamite is the ultimate masculine power fantasy, the logical extremity of every blaxploitation protagonist. Michael Jai White's portrayal spins between two deliriously humorous poles. White beautifully captures the stoic heroism of Jim Brown, his smile hidden under a mustache. His romantic frolicking is beautifully awkward. His reaction to a multiple children claiming he's their father is sidesplitting. For all his unfeeling toughness, Black Dynamite is also prone to bizarre, emotional outburst. When recalling his childhood as an orphan, he freaks out. When seeing a room full of doped up orphans, he freaks out. When one of his hos gets lippy, he freaks out even more. When fighting a group of evil kung-fu villains with White's genuinely impressive abilities, he freaks way the fuck out. The other cast members' reaction to this – usually bafflement, sometimes stunned silence – is unforgettable.

“Black Dynamite's” strength as a parody extends beyond a pitch perfect recreation of the source material and a bunch of brilliant silliness. The script exaggerates the already apparent stereotypes and cliches of the genre. The meta joke of “Black Dynamite” is that the actors are playing actors in a bizarre blaxploitation flick. And that movie only grows more bizarre as it goes on. Soon, poisoned malt liquor is revealed as the linchpin of the evil plan. “Black Dynamite” goes from being a crime movie to being a war movie. It then becomes a kung-fu movie, the hero utterly wrecking a hilariously nonchalant evil Asian warlord. The script still isn't done upping the odds. Next, black Dynamite takes the fight to Richard Nixon, who is secretly a master of martial arts. Luckily, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln appears to help. In any other movie, wackiness of this degree might be too self aware. In “Black Dynamite,” whose balance of tone is unimpeachable, it just causes more choruses of laughter.

In a time when the majority of parody movies are grueling experiments in beyond lazy writing and barely there jokes, “Black Dynamite” comes along to remind you that parodies can be good. Not just good but brilliant. It's very apparent that the makers of “Black Dynamite” have nothing but affection for their chosen target. They're students of it, using their knowledge to craft a spoof that is as much faithful homage as goofball riff. Naturally, such dedication of hilarity would grant the film an instant cult following. A pretty good animated series has followed but that often promised, actual sequel has yet to emerge. But it has to appear eventually, because Black Dynamite has far more rights to wrong, many more suckas to own, hundreds of jive turkeys to stick it to. [9/10]

[X] Afros or Sideburns
[X] Brothels or Pimps
[X] Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
[] Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
[X] Night Club Act
[X] Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[X] Sticking It to the Man
[X] Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang


Thus concludes Blaxploitation Month. It was a blast, thirty-one days of funky films, many of which I had never seen before. I am now better read in this paticuliar genre, even if there's way more movies out there to watch. Will there be another Blaxploitation Month in the future? You can count on it.

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