Sunday, May 15, 2011

Black Dynamite

I often find it difficult to review comedies.  The plots are usually just an excuse for jokes, and analyzing jokes can suck the fun out of any movie experience.  Well, okay, I am fine with analyzing and criticizing crappy comedies, because it feels like I am taking out some measure of revenge against the filmmakers that have hurt me with their obvious pop culture gags (I'm looking at you, Wayans family) or their formulaic and tiresome "jokes" (Seth MacFarlane).  But how can I review a comedy that I actually enjoy and not spoil it in a review?  I suppose a video clip wouldn't hurt.

That commercial is the opening scene from Black Dynamite, a spoof of blaxploitation films from the 1970s.  If you are familiar with Billy Dee Williams' work for Colt 45 in the 80s, then you will agree that this faux advertisement is pretty spot-on.  As a throwaway joke, I think this is a pretty clever one; it has random singing, a ridiculous slogan, and the curious claim of being the only malt liquor approved by the US government.  That's all pretty awesome.  What makes it even better is that this commercial ties into the plot of the movie.  It doesn't have to, it's amusing enough as it is, but I like the extra effort the filmmakers put in to make this seem a little less random.  Oh, and I hope you like the "DY-NO-MITE!  DY-NO-MITE!" at the end, because you hear it whenever Black Dynamite enters a scene.

The basic plot has Black Dynamite, the baddest brother around, trying to avenge his brother's drug-related death.  Of course, since this is a love letter to everything ridiculous about blaxploitation films, that premise is just a springboard that allows Black Dynamite (I love that name!) to clean up the streets, save some orphans, have a Vietnam flashback, battle with a kung-fu scientist, and eventually climax in a nunchuck fight with President Nixon.  Now, if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, call a hospital and tell them that your awesometer is broken.
This scene is as entertaining as it looks.
You might be wondering if this is a stupid movie.  Absolutely.  There is no argument about that.  What makes Black Dynamite great is that is is stupid on purpose, and (mostly) in ways that show affection for the films that inspired it.  How else can you explain Black Dynamite shooting an assassin in a doughnut costume (at the local "Chili 'n' Doughnuts" shop) and explaining with a straight face that he knew something was wrong because "Doughnuts don't wear alligator shoes"?  It's not just one-liners, though.  One of Black Dynamite's friends, Bullhorn, only speaks in rhyme --- which leads to some awkward moments when he stumps himself.  Black Dynamite, as the bad-ass hero, naturally has a lot of consequence-free sex with multiple partners in this movie; the man is a walking orgy with an afro.  And while those scenes are all entertaining enough on their own, this clip is just the icing on the cake.

What separates Black Dynamite from other blaxploitation spoofs, like Pootie Tang, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and Undercover Brother is that it could pass as vintage blaxploitation film.  Sure, it's absolutely ridiculous, but so is Shaft in Africa.  The clumsy editing, visible boom mikes, and lack of alternate takes would all feel at home in a low-budget 70s movie; Black Dynamite just makes the humor from these errors intentional.  Notice the change in actors here:

Being a pretty stupid comedy, it is understandable to think that the movie lacks the acting and action chops to entertain between jokes.  Well, Black Dynamite is played by Michael Jai White, who certainly has an action movie pedigree. Most of the time, the heroes in these movies (Rudy Ray Moore, Pam Grier, and to a lesser extent Jim Brown and Richard Roundtree) are not convincing at all when it comes to the fight scenes.  Michael Jai White has seven black belts and looks pretty tough on camera, which Steven Seagal will tell you is harder than it looks.  There are a number of recognizable supporting actors in the movie (Tommy Davidson, Arsenio Hall, singer Brian McKnight, Miguel "Juwanna Mann" A. Nunez Jr.,Bokeem Woodbine, Cedric Yarbrough, and former Piston John Salley), but they are there as props for Black Dynamite to be bad-ass to or around.  Aside from a line or two and a funny name (they range from Mo Bitches to Chocolate Giddy-Up), these guys are just around to share in the fun.  And that is what Michael Jai White (who came up with the story and co-wrote it) and director Scott Sanders (who also co-wrote it) do so well here --- they have a lot of fun.
Shockingly, a movie this stupid is not perfect.  The first time I watched it, the movie flew by, but a sober viewing proved the movie to still be thoroughly enjoyable...although I would recommend watching it in half-hour chunks.  I do the same thing for Mystery Science Theater 3000, but getting bored with a legitimately funny movie (that is only 84 minutes long) is a bad sign.  The problem is that the characters and plot are just jokes.  I don't have a problem with that choice, but it does make watching the movie all at once a little annoying.  The only other complaint I have with the film is how relatively large Tommy Davidson's role is, because I'm pretty sure I have never laughed at the man, but even the presence of a comedian I despise isn't enough to negatively impact this gem.

I am kind of picky when it comes to comedies, so when I get this excited about one, it's pretty damn funny.  While fans of blaxploitation will get more out of it than others, there is enough silliness here to please anyone.  Unless, of course, you don't like cleverly stupid humor, in which case I hope you can get tickets to Carrot Top's Vegas show.  In short, this movie has action, gratuitous nudity, evil racist white men, songs that describe the scenes, stupid humor, and a main character that begs the question of whether it is possible to be just a little too bad-ass.  The answer is no.
By far, the best new-ish comedy I have seen since my last viewing of Scott Pilgrim.

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