TADFF 09: BLACK DYNAMITE Review
[The 4th Edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival kicks off tonite at the historic Bloor Cinema off with a jolt of pure entertainment in the form of Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders' Black Dynamite. The film is screening at 7pm followed by an after-party in which the director himself will be DJing funkadelic blaxploitation sounds and video]
The challenge in spoofing Blaxploitation flicks is that really, most of the classic entries in the genre are well into self parody already (Dolemite anyone?). The solution brought to the table by writer-producer-star Michael Jai White and writer-director Scott Sanders is to make the film look as authentic as possible (re-purposing lots of 1970's b-roll footage in establishing shots) while picking at the overstuffed nature of the more serious entries (Shaft, Coffy). Police Procedural? Check. Neighborhood Vigilantism? Check. Kung Fu Island Assault? Check. Racial Conspiracy? Check. Revenge Plot? Check.
As strange as it is to say in a film this broad in its aim, much of the best humour derives from exposing the structural short cuts of lower budgeted 'give-em-what-they-want' action flicks. There are a lot of things adding up to the conspiracy Black Dynamite aims to uncover, and the movie has no problem jumping from one set-piece to the next to keep things moving along. In the case of stretching things to the expositional breaking point, a scene that pulls all of this together is sublime in its unexpected lunacy. BD and the gang get together for a 'chalk-board' session to pull together all the clues and connects Asclepius to Malt Liquor, M&Ms to Little Richard and incidentally causes the invention of Chicken and Waffles. This is worthy of whiter-than thou comic genius of Monty Python or at least the Ealing inspired Without A Clue. More obvious sight gags like boom mikes dropping into the frame, choppily edited car chases, and a shoot out involving a man in a donut suit (with an uzi) are equally plentiful and interspersed with wordier gags like that mentioned above, or, for example a co-op of wildly nick-named pimps going through their blow and ho business plan. But to merely list the successful chuckle-worthy gags and 'great' scenes would be both exhausting and pointless. Suffice it to say that they are both a plentiful cocktail of both subtle and obvious. The only tricky part is to decide whether some of the clunkier moments, characters or side-plots in the film (and there are a few) are errors in judgment or a play for further authenticity. Perhaps one could make the argument on whether or not this sort of endeavor is worthwhile considering that there are boatloads of classic black-cinema out there waiting for discovery and enjoyment. The emphasis on comedy and style here is highly likely to be a catalyst in getting people to go back and look up many of the originals and that in and of it self is pretty cool. You dig.
Michael Jai White, who is perhaps best known as the man in the Spawn costume or Direct-To-Video fare (although he has a blink and you'll miss him role in The Dark Knight), gets a chance to really strut his stuff as a Robin Hood of the 'hood with a CIA secret ops, Kung Fu and 'Nam background. He is Richard Roundtree, Jim Kelly and Chuck Norris all rolled into a virile and buff lead who can deliver the Kung-Fu and Nunchaku along with tongue twisting monologues and wild wakka-chikka-wakka-chikka moments with the ladies. His comic timing is as impeccable as his martial arts. His reaction to meeting 'the man' and his wife at the very top of the food chain results into a worthy climax of the film, consecrating his superhero status with the destruction of the good china, that will be hard to top any future Black Dynamite sequels (BD in Africa?).
To put it quite simply, Black Dynamite is a the best parody/spoof film to be made in some time. It stomps on the line between gag-a-minute classics such as Airplane! and Top Secret! (I'm surprised Black Dynamite doesn't also have an exclamation point at the end of its title, it is certainly deserving of it) and more indirect homage films like Hot Fuzz and Austin Powers. While there have been a couple of quite passable parodies that have mined this territory (I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Undercover Brother), Black Dynamite is best of breed. It understands and takes precise aim at the idiosyncrasies of Blaxploitation flicks and delivers an entry of pure popcorn entertainment. It keeps much of the spirit of good old fashioned (em)power(ment) to the people, even as it often pokes 'the classics' in the solar plexus.
How wide Sony Pictures will go with this film remains a mystery, as there is enough material to easily garner a 'hard R' MPAA rating, but as the film beings is commercial run in October in 5-6 cities, here is hoping that it shows the folks that flock to the soulless and offensive '____-Movie' parodies just how things ought to be done.