Synopsis: An all-star cast led by Michael Jai White is featured in this 1970’s-style blaxploitation action fiilm about the legendary super crime fighter Black Dynamite. The Man killed his brother, pumped heroin into local orphanages, and flooded the ghetto with adulterated malt liquor. Black Dynamite was the one hero willing to fight The Man all the way from the blood-soaked city streets to the hallowed halls of the Honky House.
Black Dynamite 7.75
“…whenever there’s injustice, wrongs to be righted, innocents to be defended, Black Dynamite will be there, delivering ass-whuppings. and I will not hesitate to lay the hammer down on any clown that comes around. Because if they wanna fight, they best come see me, because I’m Black Dynamite.”
The moment I heard the title I pretty much wrote ‘Black Dynamite’ off. We’ve all seen too many lame spoof films in the last 10-15 years that I’ve become an eternal sceptic. And this from a MEGA-fan of the early Zucker/Zucker/Abraham films!
The trailer didn’t even help its case. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a big enough fan of blaxploitation films, but I simply didn’t find it funny. Mind you, it’s also quite possible that the satire was lost on me – I’m relatively well-versed, but I haven’t gone really deep into the genre.
“Hey lil’ mama, it may be bigger than you, and it may be bigger than me, but it ain’t bigger than you AND me, can you dig it?”
But I read one or two reviews from trustworthy sources, and their high praise for ‘Black Dynamite’ beguiled me into reconsidering my position (the idea of a well-made satire of this genre is rather appealing to me, so I was easily swayed ). I started looking for it whenever I was out “treasure hunting”.
I finally stumbled upon it recently in one of my favourite second-hand CD/DVD shops, immediately bought it and then put it at the top of my list of “must sees” (I’m planning on giving some trashy ’70s Roger Corman exploitation films to a close friend of mine for his birthday so I thought I’d do some “homework” beforehand. What friends wouldn’t do for each other, huh? )
“Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrification is only outmatched by your zest for kung-fu treachery!”
This first salvo in this short series (one of many, what with the ongoing Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Price, Alice In Wonderland and Disney/Pixar sets) simply had to be the parody, because I figured that I would get a lot more out of the “serious” ones afterwards – my theory being that I would then be able to see all their flaws, having been highlighted to great effect in ‘Black Dynamite’.
Well, whether that ends up being true or not, ‘Black Dynamite’ was absolutely worth watching. I didn’t quite laugh as much as I would have liked, no doubt due to the references being slightly lost on me, but it was nonetheless a silly little ditty (“little” because it’s less than 90 minutes in length) and I had loads of fun from start to finish.
“You be cool, Mama. Bee here will keep you tight and out of sight. I’m gonna shake the tree from the roots and rake up the fruits, rip it up out of the ground, find out what’s going down.”
I went so far as to watching all the special features in short succession. And, as the filmmakers explained more of the references, both in interviews and throughout the audio commentary track, I started to see things I hadn’t the first time around. I mean, I knew from the onset that ‘Black Dynamite’ would likely grow on me over time, but it’s already much funnier to me now.
I especially loved that most of the humour was deadpan, as though the filmmakers were making a serious blaxploitation film – but taking it just a little further to show that they were in on the joke. The advantage is that one can appreciate it on two levels: for its relatively subdued comedy AND for the picture’s finer qualities (which, given the genre, is somewhat limited ).
“Yeah yeah, mama. Now you could hit the sheets or the streets, it don’t make me no never mind. Now that’s your bag baby, you can go, or you could come. Can you dig it?”
I dig it. It’s basically a love letter to the films that influenced it, and all the people involved took their time to ensure that everything felt right, from the wardrobe (from Academy-nominated Ruth E. Carter) to Adrian Younge’s soundtrack (which has a funky fresh flavour all of its own. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m thinking of getting the CD ) to the editing (which boasts vintage archival footage throughout, to make up for the constraints of its limited budget).
Unfortunately, ‘Black Dynamite’ referenced a number of films or TV shows that I have yet to see, such as ‘The Mack’, and had fun satirising Jim Kelley’s films – none of which I’ve seen except for ‘Enter the Dragon’. I still got the overall vibe, but it sure would have been nice to get all the gags along the way. Still, they also poked fun at films I’d seen – it’s just that I hadn’t picked up on the flaws they were referencing. But I will the next time I watch them.
“I swear on the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, I’m coming to emancipate and proclamate on your ass!”
The action sequences were outstanding – especially that last one in the Honky House! Michael Jai White, who co-wrote the film based on his idea, has 7 black belts in various martial arts and shows off his skill throughout (in the interviews he says that this picture was effortless for him because blaxploitations only feature very basic kung fu). It’s quite impressive to watch a 41-year old man do so much martial art and stunt work himself. Wait til you watch him jump! I’m impressed.
He’s probably a little stockier than the average blaxploitation lead is, but it’s easy to ignore when you see just how much presence he has. White fills the silver screen with Black Dynamite in every single scene he’s in, playing it as dead serious as his forbears would have. The difference is that his one-liners have more than one dimension to them, given the context, and he’s surrounded by so much satirical mayhem that it actually reinforces his character in the process.
“I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna fight. The only way I know how. Ever since I was a boy, all I knew was how to fight. Fight, fight, fight. And when I got tired, I would fight some more. And now that the Man has got our backs to the wall, I ain’t gonna let him hurt the kids. I’m gonna take him down. I’m gonna take them all down.”
What’s incredible about all the on-screen madness is that it doesn’t show itself off – you’re always wondering if it was done on purpose or not. In fact, while some of it was meant to echo the original movies (ex: conspicuous boom mics or weak fighting choreography), some things were actual goofs during the filming process that they decided to keep because it was in the spirit of things – such as a stunt man forgetting to set the safety brake on a car during a gun fight and having to go back and stop it from rolling away.
Seriously, I had such a good time with ‘Black Dynamite’ that, not only do I want to watch it again, but I’m truly tempted to revisit many of the blaxploitation classics that I’ve seen over the years – and look at them with a very different eye. I only wish that they made more of these films while Michael Jai White is still in his prime – because, if they were all done equally well, there could never be too much Black Dynamite.
“You be cool, Little Mama. I’ll be back before too long.”