USA, 2009: Black Dynamite
Genre: Action, Comedy
Michael Jai White writes and stars in this spoof of 1970s Blaxploitation films. Black Dynamite is the street’s toughest ex-CIA Agent, and he’s on a quest for revenge for his murdered brother.
Black Dynamite is a difficult film to criticize, both because of its subject matter and its presentation. Deliberately poorly filmed and deliberately poorly acted, it is a tribute and a parody of the politically incorrect movies of the era. Compared to the Mexploitation film Machete, director Scott Sanders wins gold for convincingly imitating the style and techniques of his chosen genre. Using classic Super 16mm film stock for photography and vintage tape recording for the score, it would be easy to believe this was a real classic from the disco age. However, unlike Machete’s somewhat self-aware campiness, Black Dynamite plays itself almost too authentically, and the intentional bad acting and movie blunders become rather distracting. On the upside, the terrible dialogue is instantly quotable, and is full of hilarious one-liners delivered with full force and conviction.
Boasting an impressive ensemble cast, it’s unfortunate that we see so little of the great characters littered throughout the film. Everyone does their role perfectly, whether the case is scene-chewing melodrama or no-nonsense hero posing. The “So Bad It’s Good” rule is in effect here, even moreso because White and Sanders achieve exactly what they set out to do in creating a believable low-budget film from the past. While completely cheesy in almost every scene, you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous situations and over-the-top performances by everyone on screen. Yes, it’s completely absurd, but that’s sort of the point, so we roll with it. However, while watching the characters is tons of fun, following the story becomes somewhat of a chore as the plot twists and scenery changes pile up. Poor pacing and story development may have been trademarks of the film style, but in this case knowing the joke doesn’t make it any easier to watch. By the end of the second act, White’s character is essentially just hopping from set piece to set piece in search of more bad guys to beat up. The most enjoyable part of the film is the dialogue between Black Dynamite and the supporting characters, and it would have been more entertaining to see more of that instead of a lot of the kung fu fighting.
Taking a look at the action, it’s every bit as hokey as the rest of the movie. White is a formidable athlete, but his talents are severely underutilized here. Whether constrained by the style of the genre or the limits of his stunt team, the choreography of the fights seem bland and uninspired. His one fight against Roger Yuan’s stereotypical kung fu villain is brief and altogether one-sided, completely wasting the potential showdown between two legitimate martial artists. As a vintage film genre spoof, White succeeds in just about every way possible, but as an action film made in the 21st century it becomes boring and unimpressive. Black Dynamite is an absolutely hilarious look back at a bygone age and is definitely worth watching, but just don’t expect a lot of great action from it.
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