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Conceptually speaking, spoof movies are easy. Poking fun at specific genres — be it horror, action, or otherwise — is relatively simple, especially if the subject matter in question is ripe for the ribbing. Executing these tricky endeavors properly, however, is a bit more difficult. The cinematic gutter is littered with films that, for one reason or another, failed to grasp the concept adequately; the “Scary Movie” franchise, for example, never had a clue, though it did come closer to attaining its lofty goals than the countless offshoots it has woefully inspired. If parody flicks were communicable diseases, they’d probably be herpes. Big, red, throbbing herpes that never seem to stay away for very long.
With his 2009 action spoof/blaxploitation homage “Black Dynamite”, director Scott Sanders implements the obvious comedic trappings of a parody film with a surprising amount of style, wit, and intelligence. The picture brilliantly, and effortlessly, transcends the material, becoming the exact thing it strives so hard to lampoon. There are literally dozens of moments when Sanders and star/co-writer Michael Jai White ensnare the look, the feel, and the energy of those gleefully campy low-budget actioners from the mid-to-late 70’s. Unlike Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof”, two films that desperately want to be as cool as their inspirations, “Black Dynamite” always feels like the real deal.
White stars as badass brother Black Dynamite, a former CIA agent who spends the majority of his free time policing inner-city streets, protecting grateful prostitutes from their abusive pimps, and, of course, making sweet love to countless ladies from every corner of the charted universe. When his estranged brother is savagely gunned down by a ruthless, cold-blooded killer, Dynamite begins investigating the case on his own terms, which, of course, involves a fair amount of wonky gunplay and an abundance of unbridled martial arts mayhem.
Naturally, it doesn’t take long for our hero to figure out that his brother was, in fact, working undercover for the CIA, having been inspired by his older sibling’s legendary adventures. As Black Dynamite digs deeper into this insanely campy mystery, he quickly discovers a myriad of greed, lies, and corruption running through the bruised veins of his beloved city: crack-addicted orphans begging for a fix; a government conspiracy to flood narcotics into the ghetto; a web of deceit that threatens to destroy the entire African-American race. With the help of several colorful characters and a limitless supply of panache, Dynamite sets out to avenge his brother’s death, infiltrate the Honky House, and, if he has time, fall madly in love with the only sister who truly understands him.
As someone who has seen more than his fair share of blaxploitation movies over the past two decades, picking out the countless winks and nods to the genre is half the fun of watching a movie like “Black Dynamite”. The silly characters, the goofy plot devices, the catchy theme song, the borrowed footage from other movies — it’s all in keeping with the cornball aesthetic and reckless spirit of the genre. The only aspect of the picture that feels slightly out-of-place is Michael Jai White’s multiple fight scenes. The sequences are expertly executed and tightly choreographed, a sharp contract to the brawls found in such low-budget efforts as “Dolemite” or “Super Soul Brother”. This isn’t really a complaint so much as an observation. White’s ability to kick ass is definitely a plus.
On the performance end of the spectrum, “Black Dynamite” is in a league of its own. Sanders has assembled a collection of actors who thoroughly understand and, more importantly, appreciate the material. Stand-outs include an almost unrecognizable Arsenio Hall, “In Living Color” alumni Tommy Davidson, Mykelti Williamson, former “Reno 911” cast member, Cedric Yarbrough, and the always-entertaining Obba Babatunde as a wise pimp named Osirus. And while everyone in the picture does a fine job bringing this bizarre world to life, it’s Michael Jai White that steals every scene he’s in. It’s the role the underrated actor was born to play, and he seems to thoroughly understand this. Every line is an instant classic worthy of quotation.
“Black Dynamite” is a hilarious, whip-smart tribute to a bygone era, a time when young, inexperienced filmmakers were just beginning to dip their tender toes into edgier waters. Director Scott Sanders, along with co-writers Michael Jai White and Byron Minns, have set the bar very high for future parodies, especially those that wish to have a little fun with genres that are, generally speaking, easy targets for lazy comedians. The picture begs for repeat viewings, and you should prepare your family and friends for all of the goofy quotes you’re fated to assault them with for weeks to come. Simply put, it’s an immediate cult classic that will surely become a midnight movie staple in college towns across the nation. As long as nobody interrupts Dynamite’s kung fu, that is.
Scott Sanders (director) / Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White, Byron Minns (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Jai White … Black Dynamite
Tommy Davidson … Cream Corn
Kevin Chapman … O’Leary
Mykelti Williamson … Chicago Wind
Arsenio Hall … Tasty Freeze
Cedric Yarbrough … Chocolate Giddy-Up
Salli Richardson-Whitfield … Gloria