Someone should abduct the idiots behind the “Date Movie”/”Epic Movie”/“Meet the Spartans” spoofs and force them to watch “Black Dynamite” so they can see how it’s done. This is one of the cleverest, most consistently funny spoof movies since “Airplane!,” and like that film, it doesn’t require much knowledge of the genre it parodies to get the jokes.
That’s a good thing, because its target is 1970s blaxploitation flicks, and let’s be honest, how many of those has the average person actually seen? But you know the genre anyway, embodied by famous examples like “Shaft”: smooth-talking black heroes kick The Man’s butt, refuse to take jive talk from any turkeys, and sex up all the ladies. They were low-budget affairs, often made without much technical skill, and they were not afraid to pander directly to their African-American target audience.
“Black Dynamite” recreates all of that with astonishing, hilarious accuracy, from the ’70s-brown color schemes to the cheesy zoom-ins, from the one-dimensional performances to the editing mistakes. Moreover, it does it all with a straight face, which is crucial in a parody as broad as this one. The cast includes many good actors who are excellent at playing bad actors, and those bad actors are very serious about the campy roles they’re playing.
At the center of it all, and our top contender for Most Surprising Comedy Star of the year, is Michael Jai White, a burly martial artist probably best known for starring in 1997’s “Spawn.” He plays the title character here, an ex-CIA agent and all-around badass whose name really is Black Dynamite. Black Dynamite — he’s always called by his full name — is out for justice after his brother is killed by The Man. There’s also a new drug on the street hurting kids, and a vast The Man-sponsored conspiracy to keep the black man down.
Black Dynamite’s investigations lead him into the beds of many women and the secret hideouts of everyone from Mafiosi to the fiendish Dr. Wu (Roger Yuan). (B.D. to Wu: “Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrifications is only outmatched by your zest for kung-fu treachery!”) Black Dynamite has multiple friends on the streets, guys with names like Chocolate Giddy-Up (Cedric Yarbrough), Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), and Tasty Freeze (Arsenio Hall). He’s also a benevolent figure at the local whorehouse, run by a busty gal named Honeybee (Kym Whitley), who tells him, “I wanna thank you for taking care of us girls when we was down and out and didn’t have no pimp.”
White, who wrote the screenplay with Scott Sanders (who also directed) and Byron Minns, never falters in his complete commitment to the character. Whether he’s declaring his intentions in rhyme (“I will not hesitate to lay the hammer down on any clown that comes around”), apologizing for mistreating a lady (“I’m sorry I pimp-slapped you into that china cabinet”), or just generally being smooth (“Freeze, you jive-time suckas!”), Black Dynamite is always preposterously capable, confident, and indestructible. That’s a parody of the way blaxploitation heroes were usually portrayed, but the comedy in “Black Dynamite” works on other levels, too. The film functions not just as a spoof (which might get old after a few minutes) but as a straightforward comedy.
Sanders packs the frame with sight gags and inside jokes and never over-does the intentional cheesiness. It takes a lot of skill to make a movie that looks bad without actually BEING bad, and Sanders walks the line perfectly. The “incompetence” on display — visible boom mikes, continuity errors, and so forth — is entirely plausible, and made funny because we know it was done on purpose. The tone, the style, and the delivery of the gags are spot-on, the inspiration flagging only slightly near the end. A film with this much gleeful energy and satiric creativity can only be described as dynamite.
A- (1 hr., 30 min.; )