Ten years ago the well of parody films was dry. Meet the Spartans, Vampires Suck and ceaseless Scary Movies had drank it empty leaving nothing but hot air and a barely there puddle. Within that puddle writers Michael Jai White, Byron Minns and Scott Sanders planted a seed and watched a legacy grow.
A loving send up of the blaxploitation genre as well as an accurate parody of the same, Black Dynamite was an explosive critical success and a dismal commercial flop reaping just over 10 per cent of its budget back. But some films are destined for cult status and like many of its grainy, poorly produced 16mm predecessors Black Dynamite achieved exactly that. Receiving news of his brother’s death at the hands of drug smugglers, ex-Green Beret, ex-CIA agent Black Dynamite (White) vows to clean up the streets. After ridding the streets (and orphanages) of heroin, Black Dynamite travels to Kung Fu Island in search of the source of the emasculating booze Anaconda Malt Liquor produced by Fiendish Dr Wu (Roger Yuan). From there he tracks down the mastermind behind it all: President Richard Nixon (James McManus).
Black Dynamite is a product of two times: the 70s and the late 2000s. Obviously it hearkens
back to the old days of cheap and quick movie making, but it also reflects the sad state of comedy in the modern era. Comedies have been in a downward spiral since the early years of the new millennium. For some reason mainstream audiences seemed to split comedies into a gendered divide consisting of romantic comedies and gross-out frat-bro movies. That divide and view of it has persisted for nearly twenty years and it often left movies like Black Dynamite or wider releases like Cock Blockers and Booksmart out in the cold.
But Black Dynamite was never intended for mainstream success like Cock Blockers or Booksmart were. If any comedy within the last decade deserves cult status it is Black Dynamite. Its direction, writing and performances are so dedicated to reproducing the style and dialogue of blaxploitation movies, warts and all, that it feels designed specifically for people that wanted a blaxploitation parody movie in 2009. A number that I’m sure would never guarantee profitability.
In its intended goal Black Dynamite succeeds. The dialogue is whip smart. The fight scenes are kinetic, weighty and funny. Every script slip-up and boom mic fumble feels as intentional here as they do unintentional in their original forms. But Black Dynamite‘s real side-splitting power lies in its script and in White and his supporting cast: by turns clueless, straight and self-aware performances. In no other film could a line like “Fiendish Dr Wu! I smelled your kung-fu treachery before I stepped onto your island!” be delivered with such sincerity, gusto and self-awareness.
White – better known as Gamble in The Dark Knight – plays Black Dynamite as a man driven almost insane by his own badassery, machismo and righteousness. He’s basically a testosterone-charged Batman with an afro and a .44 magnum. This ridiculousness gives White the chance to deliver some truly unhinged monologues on heroin addicted orphans and fiendish Kung-Fu treachery alongside bizarre and undeserving take-downs whenever someone, usually a woman, interrupts him. The tirade beginning with “Shut the fuck up Euphoria!” is an all-timer. All of these moments generally lead into subtle winks to the camera that never reach the depths of the hard elbowing references of Scary Movie. One scene in particular has the Black Panther militant characters rattle off scene directions such as “(Sarcastically) I’m in charge” or “(The militants turn startled). How did you get in here?”
White may be noted for small roles in large blockbusters but he’s best known as a martial artist, director and actor in smaller straight-to-DVD or limited release B-movies. Movies with a hard edge and a soft running time like Undisputed 2, Triple Threat and Accident Man. It’s what makes him so perfect for Black Dynamite. He has the physicality for the role along with the cheesy dramatic chops for the dialogue as well as an ability and a love for poking fun. All of these things made Black Dynamite more than a caricature they made him a living, breathing, ass-kicking superhero.
Black Dynamite is obviously a comedy. No film that has pimp characters called Chocolate Giddy-Up, Mo Bitches and Tasty Freeze could be anything else. But it’s a comedy where the black superman of the title beats the shit out of Tricky Dicky in a nunchuk fight during the climax. Even in comedies we get to live out our flights of fancy that we never could in real life. Black Dynamite cleans up the streets, saves his fellow African-Americans from Little Dick Syndrome and beats up the Racist-in-Chief. Had Little Richard seen it he would have indeed sang “Ooooooo!” but for the right reasons.
Every one-liner in Black Dynamite feels like an instant classic. At one point at a Chilli ‘n’ Donuts restaurant Black Dynamite shoots an assassin in a donut costume. His reasoning behind spotting his assailant: “Donuts don’t wear alligator shoes”. Near the beginning Black Dynamite crashes a Pimp Council meeting and declares war on all selling drugs to the community to which Chocolate Giddy-Up responds “But Black Dynamite! I sell drugs to the community!” Other moments I’ll leave to your discovery but pay attention once Black Dynamite’s team meet to find out the dick-shrinking mystery behind Anaconda Malt Liquor. Here’s a hint: “Anaconda Malt Liquor gives you Oooooooo!”
As you’re reading this Michael Jai White is filming The Outlaw Johnny Black, a spiritual sequel in the western mode. If you’re looking for more Black Dynamite, Adult Swim produced two seasons of an animated series with the major cast returning. Black Dynamite’s impact can be summed up as such: every time I do something mildly admirable like open a jar or climb stairs without getting tired the theme of “Dy-NO-Mite! Dy-NO-Mite!” rings in my ears. It takes one viewing for Black Dynamite to stick like glue and never leave. Can you dig it? I bet you can.