Black Dynamite (2009)

Genres - Action  |   Sub-Genres - Action Comedy, Blaxploitation, Martial Arts  |   Release Date - Oct 16, 2009 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 84 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was released in 1971. By 1975, filmmakers were already making spoofs like Darktown Strutters. While artists like Van Peebles and Curtis Mayfield (whose soundtrack for Superfly easily outshines the film itself) were serious in their aims, most of the Hollywood output was more about outrageous street fashion, funk, and jive talk than anything truly subversive. That makes the films ripe for parody, and with a new entry coming out every couple of years, blaxploitation parody has seemingly become its own genre.

Scott Sanders' Black Dynamite works surprisingly well, primarily because it maintains a genuine affection for the films it's mocking. Michael Jai White (who also co-wrote the script) stars as the title character, a former CIA agent who returns to crime fighting when his brother is murdered. The movie displays a self-consciously low-budget style, with visible boom mikes and action sequences cut to hide missing effects. It's beefs, babes, and braggadocio as White winds his way through the underworld, protecting orphans from the scourge of drugs ("This orphanage used to be alive with laughter," he laments) and teaching kung fu to prostitutes. The goofy plot owes a bit to the aforementioned Darktown Strutters, with a capitalist conspiracy to sell black America its own destruction, and winds up with its hero in the White House battling a surprisingly spry Richard Nixon (James McManus).

Black Dynamite is pretty funny, in that self-conscious, inside-jokey way of film parodies. It's successful in large part due to White's wonderfully straight-faced performance. While White has never shown this kind of comic ability as an actor, he has displayed his martial arts skills, and, like his deadpan delivery, they lend the film an authenticity that grounds the comedy. It needs that grounding. The more outrageous Sanders lets it get -- as when he graphically depicts the horrifying effects of "Anaconda Malt Liquor" -- the more Black Dynamite verges into mere silliness, along the lines of something produced by the Wayans brothers (whose fitfully amusing I'm Gonna Git You Sucka! this easily surpasses). Black Dynamite should play especially well to aficionados of the genre, because one can sense the filmmakers' love for those old films, which imparts surprising warmth to the comedy.