“Black Dynamite” – 2009 Tribeca Film Festival Review

The best parodies hold a certain reverence for the source material, and blaxploitation is one genre that’s seen several, including Keenan Ivory Wayans’ “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and Rudy Ray Moore’s legendary “Dolemite.”

Like those films, “Black Dynamite” is a hilarious send up of blaxploitation that maintains a steady appreciation for the genre. The film centers on Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White), a former CIA operative who has appointed himself protector of the inner-city hood. When his little brother Jimmy is gunned down in a drug handoff, Black Dynamite vows revenge, only to uncover a vast conspiracy involving a mafia drug ring that is distributing heroin to orphanages.

The plot varies between overly simplistic to wildly convoluted and hysterically incoherent. It’s all a sidebar to Black Dynamite-style nunchaku-swinging, butt-kicking and lovemaking. Director/Writer Scott Sanders also sprinkles the film with liberally glaring technical errors, such as dropped boom mikes, continuity mistakes and glaringly bad editing. It’s a fun tip of the hat to the messy, unpolished grindhouse era of cinema.

Many of the story elements and characters are blaxploitation archetypes. For example, politically-active militant Gloria (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) resists Black Dynamite’s charms, but eventually warms up to him in an uproariously overdone montage of afternoon frolicking in idyllic, 1950’s style suburbia. Central to the movie’s success is White. He not only sports the buff body to play the lead character—Sanders stated that the film’s look was partly inspired by a photo of White with weapons and a big afro—but also the martial arts chops to back it up. More importantly, White rolls with the character, going effectively over the top by crafting a completely unreal persona that could only exist within a blaxploitation film. He portrays Black Dynamite as a tough, smooth killing machine so driven by his sense of justice that he’s unable to even communicate in normal conversation without spouting a one-liner or tilting his head at the camera to make himself look tougher. Not that the film doesn’t help him with that persona: almost every time Black Dynamite walks through a doorway, he’s introduced with a musical intro of his own name.

That’s not to say White is the only standout. Every player involved in this film—including the many cameo appearances—looks like they’re having the time of their lives making it. It’s part of what makes the film so damn funny.

“Black Dynamite” screened at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival and will hit theatres later this year.