Movie Review : Black Dynamite (2009)
This is the second movie you wanted me to watch in April. It arrived dead even in voting with William Friedkin's excellent Sorcerer, which I had the pleasure of reviewing earlier this week. Black Dynamite is a 84 minutes-long (including 9 minutes worth of credits) blaxploitation-influenced action comedy co-written by Michael Jai White, Byron Minns and director Scott Sanders, which I was slightly uncomfortable guy. As a white guy, passing judgement on material that is culturally problematic to other ethnic group is somewhat of a lose-lose situation. But you guys voted for it, so I saw Black Dynamite and found a couple things to say about it.
Ugh. Let's go.
Black Dynamite basically has three plots riding coattails to one another. Black Dynamite's (Michael Jai White) brother Jimmy (Baron Vaughn) is killed in the opening moments of the movie by a mysterious underworld figure, which he decides to investigate on. He's also brought to investigate a smack epidemic on the street through his love interest Gloria (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), which somehow leads him to a conspiracy theory involving malt liquor? Point is, the pot of Black Dynamite is Black Dynamite investigating shit, kicking ass, killing fools and sticking it to the man. It's not that different from any blaxploitation/action movies, except maybe for its overwhelming self-awareness.
So, Black Dynamite is not exactly a blaxploitation renaissance movie or even a parody of the genre. Sure, it features important elements of the genre like that bizarre obsession with kung fu, groovy soundtracks and over-the-top, impractical wardrobes, but it primarily uses blaxploitation aesthetics to laugh at a wide array of movie tropes. For example, "X cleans the streets" is an idiom/headline overheard in many action movies that nobody ever follows up on. It's an easy and rather hollow way of tying things up. In Black Dynamite, the headline appears right in the middle of the movie after a kick ass montage of Black Dynamite and his boys fighting dealers and it cuts right away to footage of the said "clean streets" which were obviously filmed in a different city. That kind of stuff.
Another great example of loopy timelines is Black Dynamite confessing to Gloria he was an orphan even if you clearly see his mother at the beginning of the movie. Although he looks older at the moment of his mother's death, it's impossible to tell and the movie hilariously gets away with it. I liked Black Dynamite better when it made fun of the broader spectrum of action movies, though. I laughed out loud when his old partner O'Leary from the CIA reinstated his "license to kill", which bridged a loophole that is in just about every action movie. The invasion of Kung Fu Island at the end of the movie was also a nice anachronistic throwback to personal favorite of mine Commando. Blaxploitation is something easy to make fun of because it belongs to another era and it's been laughed at over and over again, so Black Dynamite is definitely best enjoyed when it looks at the greater picture.
I'm not going to lie, though. I don't think Black Dynamite was a great movie. It was a pleasant viewing but not a memorable one and the shallowness of the script is to blame for that. It's a very short movie that features several fight scenes and montages, leaving little place else for anything but gag-chasing humor, which is a pet peeve of mine. The different storylines are a good idea, but would've been better exploited as a triple feature. There are too many characters coming and going, too many pimps alone and the only one I remember twenty-four hours after seeing the movie is Cream Corn because he talked like James Brown. Black Dynamite is clever, funny at times, irreverent, but it makes fun of things that were beaten into the ground already and it doesn't quite offer anything else to latch on it.
Blaxploitation has a precarious place in cinema history. I mean, it's undeniable that it happened but was it the firs occurrence of black people telling their own stories in their own way or was it just a perpetuation of unhealthy stereotypes? If anything Black Dynamite suggests that we shouldn't take these movies seriously and its relentless lampooning of every action movie judges every tropes by the same standards. But, should it? I'm obviously overthinking this issue, but movies like Black Dynamite come off as insanely weird in an era where a series like Luke Cage exists, which tackles most of its social themes with seriousness and dignity. Don't get me wrong, Black Dynamite is not to be taken seriously, but there's a reason why I hadn't even heard about it until you guys voted it up. It has neither the power or the relevance to be remembered.