Was it coincidence or serendipity that the day before I watched Black Dynamite I was having a long, thoughtful discussion with my wife about the differences between satire, parody, farce and spoof? Because here’s a movie that might be all of those things at once, with a generous dollop of loving homage spooned on top. And if categories and labels drive you nuts, I’ll just say the last time I laughed this hard at any movie was when the dog got it in A Fish Called Wanda.
Here is a movie that so perfectly reproduces the look, feel, attitude, tone, style and camp factor of the original blaxploitation productions that at least one friend of mine was fooled into thinking he was watching a reissue. It’s the first spoof of its kind that could easily be placed side-by-side with the originals to do them justice — if only because at their best the originals knew they were preposterous (cf. Cleopatra Jones — seriously, Shelley Winters as a Big Bad named “Mommy”!?) and had fun with it. By the end of Dynamite you know for sure you’ve been watching a spoof, but the put-on’s done out of affection, not sneering.
The plot is pure, glistening nonsense, just as it should be. Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) did his time in The War and a certain three-letter Agency, but now devotes his time to giving an assortment of ladies his lovin’, pimp-slapping troublemakers with his kung fu, and cleaning up the ghetto with his bare hands. Then his brother’s killed in a mob-infiltration operation, the government begs for his help once again, and he swings into action with a pistol in one hand and a pair of nunchucks in the other. Somewhere along the way they even shoehorn in a mini-parody of Seventies kung fu films (“Fiendish Doctor Wu, you done f — ed up now!”) and end with nothing short of Black Dynamite parachuting into the White House and throwing down with a nunchuck-wielding Richard Nixon. Yes.
I mentioned the movie’s look-and-feel, which extends right down to the grainy, yellowed-out film stock and the dingy-looking props. It looks like something dug off a warehouse shelf and given a restoration, not something shot in the last couple of years. And as goofy as the movie can be (I loved a moment where a character is replaced with his stunt double right before a kick completely misses him anyway) it can also buckle down and play it straight — like the fight in the pool hall, which doesn’t succumb to the temptation to cut every half a second. Heck, the other week I suffered through some awful late Steven Seagal vehicle where every kick, every punch, every move of a foot was disguised with an edit. [Addendum: Roger Ebert talked about this same tendency in his review of a different movie.]
“Loaded with action / And guaranteed to put your ass in traction!”
And yes, that's Ms. Nixon on his left, there.
If you’re going to sink that far, you might as well go the old-school Batman route and splice in title cards that say “SPLATT!” “BIFF!” “POW!” and “OOFF!” — something even this movie never sinks to. It says something that we’ve reached a point where a parody of an action-exploitation movie can have more class, more real style, and be more genuine fun than the hypertrophic big-budget brain-wasters. That this didn’t garner a tenth of the attention of dreck like Not Another Epic Movie (or whatever they call it this year) is just further evidence most crimes against taste go unpunished.