Saturday, February 20, 2010

Geek on the Chesterfield: The Black Dynamite Review.

I was born in 1975 and spent my early years in rural Nova Scotia. As a result I sadly missed out on the grindhouse period of cinema, the period where everything was up for grabs and most films were anything but arty or pretentious in the least. Back then the goal was to put asses in seats, and if a film could transport you for two hours to a place you enjoyed so much the better. Blockbusters weren't filmed, they were the result of word of mouth and the adulation of the crowd rather than being expensive star vehicles. If a film was good, people heard about it and were drawn to the theater. But in the main it was mainly as disposable a venue of entertainment as the direct-to-DVD market is today. If it's released on schedule that's fine by the studio; if it happens to be embraced by the public at large that's an unexpected bonus.

While '70s cinema did indeed run the gamut from serious films to popcorn flicks and all points in between, to the true genre aficionado this is the age of two mighty giants: the Blaxploitation Films and the Kung-Fu Flicks. Individually these two genres were formidable; Blaxploitation gave us everything from biting social commentary (Sweet Sweetbacks's Badasssss Song) to empowered black heroes who took crap from no one and kicked ass, be they male (Shaft) or female (Foxy Brown). But when they came together in a single feature, the results could be intensely awesome (Black Belt Jones) or somewhat silly (Dolemite). The best films tended to be a mixture of both, and it's in this that Black Dynamite shines as both a subtle satire and a loving tribute.

Trying to explain the plot of Black Dynamite would be an exercise in futility, not due to any true depth per se, but simply because we've seen it all before; heroic demigod (Black Dynamite, played gut-bustingly straight by Michael Jai White) returns to his old neighborhood upon the death of his younger brother at the hands of the drug trade. BD is brought back into the fold of the CIA by O'Leary (Kevin Chapman), where he worked for the CIA, and whereupon he broke ranks with the CIA never to work with the CIA again(this film is never afraid to over-exposit to sometimes hilarious effect). With the aid of his old friend and ally Bullhorn (Byron Minns) and a strongarmed pimp snitch called Creamed Corn (Tommy Davidson), Black Dynamite works to rid the streets of drugs, violence, and kung-fu treachery, romancing the fine black activist/feminist Gloria (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) while he does so.

Directed by Scott Sanders and written by Sanders, White, and Minns, this film is amazingly fun. That's it's mandate, and it succeeds brilliantly in not only capturing the escapist feel of the '70s blaxploitation/kung-fu films, but also their incredible, incredible cheesiness. Lines are flubbed (or read complete with stage directions), the boom mike lowers into the shot to bump Black Dynamite in the head, actors in a fight scene are matched up toe to toe and one ticks the other off, only to be replaced by a lighter-skinned stunt double in the next shot. The film is at once two stories; the story of Black Dynamite the movie and the production of the film during the 1970s and all the inherent craziness therein. The film is cheesy, yes, but when it's good it's pretty damn amazing, as when Black Dynamite kicks ass with his kung-fu skills.

Cameo appearances abound, and some make for a good chuckle (such as Aresenio Hall's turn as Pimp Council leader Tasty Freeze) while others make you bust out laughing. Cedric Yarbrough all but steals the Pimp Council scene as Chocolate Giddy-Up, who had my friends and I in stitches. Some of the best cameos and reveals I will not dare spoil, but what I love about the film is it's struggle to find it's plot, so much so that the villain of the piece is consistently one-upped. We think it's one guy, but then the writer must have seen a kung-fu film the night previous and decides it's this guy, then no wait, it's this guy, in one of the most jaw-droppingly incredible scenes I've seen committed to celluloid.

Judging from his body of work (the film adaptation of Todd McFarlane's Spawn, a universal soldier sequel) I had no idea Michael Jai White was this funny or this sharp. He brings a humor to the role when he needs to but when Black Dynamite kicks ass White brings an intimidating physicality to the role, one that's mirror opposite can be seen in Minn's pretty damn pathetic 'kung-fu' as Bullhorn. Davidson as Creamed Corn is pretty funny as well, kind of a pimp C-3P0.

I know it feels a bit like a Mutual Appreciation Society in here, but do you know how incredibly good it feels to sit down with a film that states simply and plainly 'I'm here to entertain you, not beat you over the head with how Impressive I am'? And that's how I felt when the movie spun to an end in my DVD player: entertained. Black Dynamite is at once a blast from the past and a breath of fresh air, which in this film market of bloated blockbusters that offer nothing but expensive special effects budgets is something to seriously appreciate. Recommended.


Ps. Even the trailer is in on the joke, with it's 'cast credits'. This film is so damn fun.

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