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February 3, 2013

5

Black Dynamite

by Franz Patrick


Black Dynamite (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is a former top tier CIA agent who loves women and kung fu. When his brother was killed by a drug lord, he wants to find out who is responsible and get revenge. But his quest for retribution takes an unsuspected turn when he discovers that drugs are no longer contained in the streets. Even innocent kids from orphanages are becoming addicted.

“Black Dynamite,” directed by Scott Sanders, is an enjoyable throwback to blaxploitation movies that dominated in the 1970s. Half the fun of the film is the purposefully bad acting. The lead character is prone to deliver long, redundant but hilarious speeches about how he considers it as his responsibility to fight for what is right. Once in a while, White’s eyes can be seen veering to the side as if asking himself what his next line is supposed to be.

Meanwhile, the other actors lack sincerity to the point where I felt like I was watching some bad pornographic film. You know, those expository scenes when a woman, wearing nothing but a see-through robe, will casually answer a knock on the door and finds a burly plumber waiting on the other side. It is cheesy, corny, and none of it is supposed to be taken seriously.

And since that is the case, it freely summons derogatory jokes about African-Americans, whites, and Asians. My favorite is when Black Dynamite remembers watching a Vietnamese child die during his turn in the Vietnam War. He keeps using the word “Chinese” to describe the boy’s legs, arms, and eyes; how the kid, whose body is tattered due to an explosion, loses his remaining leg because he tries to get up from his original position. The words expressed are so wrong yet the execution from behind the camera is so right. Artistry is present when we feel okay to laugh at something that might be initially considered as offensive.

The second half that makes the picture fun is its style. Frames backpedal onto each other and repeat, the audio sometimes do not match the movement of the mouth, and the grainy, yellow look makes it seem like the movie is actually made in the 70s. However, I wished the material spent more time developing the partnership among Black Dynamite, Osiris (Obba Babatundé), and Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson). As the trio and their crew get closer to finding out who is in charge of the drugs rapidly taking over the neighborhood, it would have been great if we also learned a little bit more about the two men who help our protagonist to get to where he is. Also, the middle portion’s pace is at times unbearably slow. With such a playful beginning and over-the-top ending, the middle section does not feel special enough to stand on its own.

“Black Dynamite,” based on the screenplay by Michael Jai White, Byron Minns and Scott Sanders, thrives on multiple levels of funky exaggeration. I was most impressed with its firecracker dialogue, almost Tarantino-esque in its attitude–including the two-beat intense pauses. I actually waited for men in suits to walk in, men whose names are Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange, and Mr. White. Now, wouldn’t that be dynamite?

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 4 2013

    Franz,

    I remember catching an early morning festival screening of this some three years ago and loving it. I enjoyed it as a committed blaxploitation pastiche, but I wonder whether that intentionally outrageous style somehow made it impossible to critique on any other level than whether the jokes are funny or not. I thought they were, for the most part. Your Tarantino refernce is obviously apt, as I’m guessing the style and inspirations behind this movie comes as much from the trademark excesses of QT as from classic blaxploitation flicks. That said, blaxploitation is an almost complete blind spot for me, so I’m mostly familiar with the genre tropes from cinematic paraphrasing. and a little film theory.

    Reply
    • Feb 6 2013

      Hmm, I think you have a point there about its style and from the angle where audiences can criticize it. I never thought about it that way. I saw this and wrote the review almost a year ago so specific images are a blur to me unfortunately. When I get the chance to watch it for the second time, I’ll pay close attention to what you just brought up.

      Like yourself, I’m not all that well-versed in the blaxploitation sub-genre. I keep eyeing this “blaxploitation”/”urban action” collection at the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. I should just buy it some time. What stops me every time is that I have other collections that are unwatched sitting in my room and collecting dust… =X

      Reply
  2. Feb 5 2013

    Michael Jai White is such a badass in this role. He’s perfectly cast and I did enjoy how well they recreated the genre. Check out my mini-review that I wrote for this 3 years ago: http://fastfilmreviews.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/black-dynamite/

    Reply
    • Feb 6 2013

      When movies wink to the audience, it gets under my skin when the material it’s working with isn’t that good. I think this one doesn’t belong in that category. Oh, and Michael Jai White. Just thinking about him, the actor, makes me laugh.

      Reply
  3. GaryLee828
    Feb 7 2013

    There ain’t no Nipsy here!!

    Reply

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