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He's Gonna Git You Sucka

Black Dynamite (2009)

BlackDynamiteStill2009 Los Angeles Film Festival

It’s a shame that the Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez exploitation duet, “Grindhouse,” derailed at the box office, because “Black Dynamite” could have been billed as that double feature’s de facto sequel. Shot with the grainy texture of aged reels, director Scott Sanders’s tongue-way-past-cheek spoof of 1970s blaxploitation cinema plays like an expanded riff on the faux trailers that broke “Grindhouse” in half. Unfortunately for that Tarantino-Rodriguez project, today’s mainstream audience proved to be resistant toward winking big-screen throwbacks, aloof to — not in on — the joke. Which doesn’t bode well for “Black Dynamite.” As a straightforward comedy, the film lays the humor on thicker than Shaft’s mustache with mixed success. There in lies its dilemma: “Black Dynamite” is so married to its high-concept that story is sacrificed for shtick. That’s surely the intention, and “Black Dynamite” ultimately lives and dies by its own agenda.

The script – conceived by the committee of Mr. Sanders, star Michael Jai White (“Spawn,” “The Dark Knight,” and co-star Bryan Minns — bleeds with ideas trying to outdo each other. The basic plot, though, is a simple backbone. Mr. White plays the titular ex-CIA heavy, a lady-sexing, smooth-talking kung-fu master that keeps the streets on lock. His is a heightened reality where pimps named Cream Corn sip on malt liquor advertised with the tagline: “When you pop the top, the panties drop.” It’s also a corrupt neighborhood full of drug pushers and prostitutes. After his younger brother is killed by narcotics dealers, Black Dynamite is hired to investigate a criminal ring that traces back to the White House, or “Honky House.” Avoiding a jokey name change as obvious as that would’ve been foolish, clearly.

Mr. White commandeers this reckless ship, a physically-diesel, experienced fighter in real life who’s essentially inhabiting a role he was born to play. A bit player by résumé’s design, he holds down “Black Dynamite” with enough finesse and charm to make one hope the character spurns an “Austin Powers”-like, steadily improving franchise. Mr. White is simply that much fun here. As is the film itself, really. It’s difficult to not appreciate a story that culminates in Richard Nixon wielding nunchucks, a goofy visual that brings “Black Dynamite” into the same reality-on-LSD realm as Mr. Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” The minor how-dare-he-spit-upon-history backlash felt by Mr. Tarantino won’t redirect toward Mr. White company, however; when nearly every inch of soundtrack includes lyrics that jokingly explain what’s happening on screen (think “There’s Something About Mary”), insensitivity takes a nosedive off the edge of complaint.

The first time “Black Dynamite” introduces the self-referential score, it’s a hoot; by the sixth time, it’s an irritation. Similar to the fate that awaits Mr. Rodriguez’s full-length “Machete” feature (the initial trailer of which opened “Grindhouse”), “Black Dynamite” is one-note riff that’d be make for one entertaining short. Stretched into an overzealous 90 minutes, Mr. Sanders’s well-shot and gamely-played chuckler wears thin — never to the point of disinterest; more like a prankster that doesn’t know when to leave funny enough alone. By the ninth pie in your face, the whipped cream spoils. An indulgence that gradually sours, “Black Dynamite” at least keeps the decline harmless and quite tolerable.


Opens on Oct. 16 in New York and Los Angeles and on Aug. 13, 2010 in Britain.

Directed by Scott Sanders; written by Michael Jai White, Byron Minns and Mr. Sanders, based on a story by Mr. White and Mr. Minns; director of photography, Shawn Maurer; edited by Adrian Younge; music by Mr. Younge; production designer, Denise Pizzini; produced by Jon Steingart and Jenny Wiener Steingart; released by Apparition (United States) and Icon (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. This film is rated R by MPAA and 15 by BBFC.

WITH: Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite), Arsenio Hall (Tasty Freeze), Tommy Davidson (Cream Corn), John Salley (Kotex) and Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Gloria).


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