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Black Dynamite (2010, USA)

13/03/2011

Director: Scott Sanders   Starring: Michael Jai White, Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield

“Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrification is only outmatched by your zest for kung-fu treachery! ” It’s hard to imagine a film where a line like that would actually work. If you decide to watch Black Dynamite, the tale of a supafly badass seeking revenge for the death of his brother, you won’t have to imagine it. Starring Michael Jai White in the title role it is a curious mixture of blaxploitation and kung fu staples, half parody and half affectionate tribute. It’s very, very silly but it’s also incredibly funny.

Black Dynamite is the baddest cat in town and when his brother gets gunned down by drug dealers he goes to war with the pushers ina bid to clean up the streets, uncovering a sinister plot (involving kung fu treachery!) that goes all the way to the top! At first glance it might look like it’s going to turn out like some sub standard, Wayan’s brothers Scary Movie style dull-fest. Have no fear. Black Dynamite shows them how to do it properly. This is no mere cheap jibe at a genre that has become a relic of the seventies but rather a knowledgable, affectionate tribute to what made the Shafts, Sweet Sweetbacks and Truck Turners of this world such a distinctive and cult contribution to cinema. Martial arts movies get a look in too (there is a clear and heavy influence from the likes of Enter The Dragon and the Streetfighter on display) completing the homage to cult seventies cinema.

The plot, such as it is, is a rambling melange of the typical elements of the genre. Dynamite teams up with a group of Black Power Militants to fight “the Man” who is peddling smack to the neighbourhood. There is however a greater conspiracy at work. The death of Dynamite’s brother at the hands of dealers, an event that sparks off his rampage of revenge, is also a typical motif of the genre. It doesn’t really matter to be honest as it’s all just an excuse to set up the various set pieces and establish the overall feel of the movie. This is helped infinitely by the painstaking care that has been taken to recreate the look and feel of the film quality, colour, sound and music that was so common in these low budget exploitation flicks. An Isaac Hayes-esque soundtrack accompanies grainy images that crack and pop like a cheap cinema print adding to the feel. Presumably deliberately staged “accidents”, like boom mikes bouncing into view, lines being fluffed and some spectacularly deliberate bad acting all add to the illusion that you are watching a thrown together film from the early seventies. Granted there is an argument that this could marr the experience but the level of authenticity it adds is for me essential to the overall feel of the film. It’s a similar effect that Tarantino and Rodriguez went for with their Grindhouse project, although I think it has been achieved more completely here.

The action sequences are entertaining (some of the Kung Fu is actually quite good, although disguised among some very cheesy and very bad moves) and while there are no real surprises thanks to it’s pastiche of a genre formula it does tick the necessary boxes. Most importantly it is genuinely funny and had me laughing out loud for much of the running time. Arguably you might not enjoy it as much without at least a passing knowledge of the subject matter but I think there is more than enough Naked Gun style humour and just a general sense of fun to make it worth a watch for anyone.

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