Ever since the release of Grindhouse in 2007, a resurgence of ‘70s era b-movies homage films have hit the market. The most notable follow-up was Robert Rodriguez’s attempt to make the spoof trailer Machete into a feature length film. While these attempts certainly are fun and entertaining, none of them elevate themselves to the height of b-movie awesomeness, none of them except Black Dynamite.
The ballad of Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is a tale seeped in sex, drugs and kung-fu treachery as the black community is hit hard by the latest wave of smack hitting the streets. After the death of his brother, Black Dynamite takes it to the street, kicking ass, taking names and scoring honeys. But even the great Black Dynamite will be in for a few surprises before finding the source of the drugs.
Black Dynamite triumphs where other b-movies fail by finding the perfect balance between coherence and absurdity. While there certainly is a narrative cause and effect thread which can be followed, the actual events and connections are so ridiculous that it ‘s hard to take the film seriously, especially when it feigns seriousness. From the smack addicted orphans to the pimp-slap fight sequence, Black Dynamite is full of ridiculous moments.
One of the best scenes of the film is when Black Dynamite and his crew break down the entire conspiracy of the film, but do it in the most obtuse, ridiculous and absurd way that it both delivers the audience the plot information while making it as silly as possible. Similar films suffer from making the exposition too straight or too dull, while Black Dynamite makes the exposition scenes comedic gems.
But where the film comes to life is in the fantastic, over the top and delightfully magical lead performance. Michael Jai White finds a way to tap into the cool seriousness of his character while also ratcheting up the performance to the level that it becomes absurd enough to be hilarious but not so absurd as to overdo it. It takes a really great performance to give a bad performance without being annoying, trite or just flat out terrible.
He’s backed up with some strong and witty writing. While a lot of lines in this film are supposed to be campy and terrible, the film crafts a lot of great exchanges between characters. From Black Dynamite getting by with a wink and a smile to outsmarting his dastardly opponent, it’s clear that there was more thought put behind writing a script that was simultaneously bad and badass.
The music also ratchets up the absurdity, the most iconic of which is the refrain “dynamite, dynamite” throughout the film as a punctuation of a particularly awesome or ridiculous moment. There are also some hilarious songs that simply tell the audience exactly what is going on in the story. The self-aware tone and ridiculous lyrics make the soundtrack add to the overall hilarity of the piece.
For all my attempts to deconstruct what makes Black Dynamite so good, a lot of it simply comes down to the fact that it’s clear these filmmakers know their Blaxploitation flicks and figure out a way to take all the greatest possible elements out of the genre and string them together into a tale of epic hilarity. While similar films have their moments, Black Dynamite is a film filled with scene after scene of pure b-movie magic.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing