Sometimes, when making the decision about which movie to watch, you compile a lot of information. You look at the actors involved. You analyze whether or not you like what the director has done previously. You might even look at the music director, to see if maybe the score and soundtrack alone will be enough to keep you interested. Other times, you have the barest of information at the time, having only heard a few times how much others enjoyed the film. That was the case for me when I discovered the film I’m reviewing today.
Black Dynamite (2009)
Take one CIA agent. Throw in a plot revolving around avenging this agent’s dead brother, while also stopping a drug from destroying his community. Sounds like a fairly standard action movie, possibly something tangential to the Bourne series. Now, add a heaping spoof of both the era and the style of blaxsploitation cinema, and you’ve got something a little bit more. And a heck of a lot funnier than the Bourne movies. This is the formula that Black Dynamite follows, and does so well.
Starring Michael Jai White (formerly the star of Spawn) as the titular Black Dynamite, Vietnam War veteran and former CIA agent brought back into the fold to solve the murder of his brother, Jimmy. Dynamite discovers that Jimmy was working undercover for the CIA (because of course he was), and that there is currently a plot to plague black orphanages with heroin. Dynamite ties up those loose ends, before discovering that the government (predominantly white, because they’re “The Man”) are also putting out a drug inside of Anaconda Malt Liquor. This drug will target the black community as a whole (well, mostly the men, because of course it will). A further excursion to Kung Fu Island allows Dynamite to realize that the top of this particularly nasty drug chain is the President of the United States. Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?
In a true homage to the blaxsploitation films of the 70s, Black Dynamite utilizes the concept of “one take” throughout, which leads to “filming errors”, many of which were scripted to increase the comedy. Actors are replaced, stage directions are read aloud, and equipment is often visible within the shot. The actors naturally play the entire thing as being deadly serious, which just creates more comedy, as the ludicrous nature of the film is slammed against the serious presentation of the actors. The story ramps up the ridiculous factor, which forces the “filming errors” to keep pace, but, overall, the film ends up working far better than it would seem on paper. The action sequences are well-choreographed, the acting is just right for the film, and the script is generally solid, even if there are some absolutely groan-inducing lines. There’s just something magical about about hearing an actor deliver their line, immediately followed by “he says sarcastically” in a movie that knows exactly what it’s doing.
At points, Black Dynamite is an exercise in seeing just how much ridiculousness they can put on the screen, but given the style of film, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The threads that tie Black Dynamite to movies like Shaft, Superfly, and Dolemite are clear, and, what’s even more clear, those threads are laid down with a strong sentiment of love. The filmmakers didn’t set out to point out the foibles of 70s blaxsploitation; instead, they created a film that happened to highlight the unintentional comedy of films from that style, while also making their own love for those films clear.
Besides, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen this movie, and I still hear echoes of “Dynomite! Dynomite!” in my head. That may not seem like a positive thing for this film, but, trust me. It definitely is.