Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Black Dynamite (2009) - So Much Cheesy Goodness

On the Menu: BLACK DYNAMITE (2009)
Ingredients: Michael Jai White, Tommy Davidson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Arsenio Hall, Mykelti Williamson, Obba Babatundé, Bokeem Woodbine, Brian McKnight, John Salley, Cedric Yarbrough, Kevin Chapman, Byron Minns, Mike Starr, Phil Morris, Tucker Smallwood, Richard Edson, Miguel A. Núñez, Jr., Kym Whitley and Nicole Sullivan. Directed by Scott Sanders. Run time: 90 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite: When I first saw the trailer I thought BLACK DYNAMITE was really a '70s film just being released on DVD. I mean, most of the DVDs with the BLACK DYNAMITE trailer had the trailer for SOUL POWER, too, and that movie was shot in 1974. Once you see Arsenio Hall and Tommy Davidson, you realize it's not an authentic Blaxpoitation film though. But, in the trailer no one is credited as themselves. For example, Black Dynamite is played by Ferrante Jones, who is really Michael Jai White, and Chicago Wind is played by William T. Michaelson, who is really Mykelti Williamson. I knew right away that I wanted to see this once it came out on DVD.

The movie opens with the death of Jimmy, Black Dynamite's brother. If you're an undercover police officer posing as a pimp, you won't last long if you can't speak jive.

So, Black Dynamite is on a mission of revenge. That revenge mission turns into an anti-drug mission. And that mission turns into a bigger, more convoluted mission.

Second Helping: I watched it a second time, but with the audio commentary from Sanders, Minns and White. It was even funnier than the first viewing since I missed some of the jokes the first time around. The commentary mentions the different homages and points out some of the more subtle jokes. I definitely recommend you watch the movie at least twice, and once with the commentary track.

Tough to Swallow: There's a scene where a man is set on fire and they use CG for the fire. There's a green screen shot almost right after the fire scene, too. Neither fit with the '70s production vibe. 

In the diner scene, on the blackboard with the day's specials, scrambled is misspelled as "scrambed." Also, specials is written as "special's." In the animated closing credits, Bokeem Woodbine's character is listed as Black Hand Jack, but his character is Back Hand Jack.

The biggest travesty is that my favorite character, Militant #2, only has a handful of lines.

Something to Chew On: White came up with the idea for BLACK DYNAMITE while listening to James Brown's "Super Bad" on his iPod; he was working on UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING at the time. White actually co-wrote the story and screenplay. Sanders shot the movie with Super 16 Color Reversal Kodak film stock, which gives it a grainy, high contrast and saturated look. The movie includes stock footage from actual blaxpoitation films as well as from the Sony Pictures library. Sanders has mentioned the film includes shots from "Charlie's Angels," "S.W.A.T.," "The Rookies," "Matt Helm" and the 1984 Chuck Norris movie MISSING IN ACTION.

The movie premiered as a midnight showing at Sundance in 2009.

There are numerous homages: TROUBLE MAN, DOLEMITE, THE MACK, THREE THE HARD WAY, FOXY BROWN, AVENGING DISCO GODFATHER and ENTER THE DRAGON to name a few. White's influences for Dynamite were Jim Brown, Jim Kelly and Fred Williamson. White actually watched the finished movie with Brown, and Brown gave it his thumbs up. Davidson said his character, Cream Corn, was influenced by all the pimps on "Starsky and Hutch."

Most everyone knows Mykelti Williamson was Bubba in FORREST GUMP. Well, Byron Minns co-starred in that as well. He played the soldier who taught Forrest how to play ping pong.

And, depending on how many movies, TV shows and music videos you watch, you should recognize everyone on the Pimp Counci. There's also a couple references to the popular Roscoe's restaurant chain.

The film currently has a 7.5 user rating on IMDb.com (4,587 votes).

Sides: The DVD has a commentary track from Sanders, Minns and White. There are 17 deleted/alternate scenes (about 25 minutes worth of footage). "Lighting the Fuse" is a 23-minute making-of featurette. "The Comic-Con Experience" is an 18-minute Q&A session from the convention. The DVD also includes trailers for 12 other films.

Aftertaste: I love parodies. Well, I love good parodies. BLACK DYNAMITE is a great spoof of a genre that was half-parody anyway. You might have to watch the movie a second time to catch all the humor. There are funny lines (most of the humor is in the deliveries) and funny characters, but the spoofs of production values are even more hilarious. One stunt guy is killed at least 6 different times in the movie, another stunt guy is "replaced" mid-scene, boom mics are purposely left dangling in shots and stock footage is interjected regardless if it totally fits. Discontinuity is a big part of what makes the movie work. Most of the "mistakes" are on purpose, and from listening to the commentary, the real mistakes were left in anyway.

I didn't get all the homages since I've only seen maybe four Blaxploitation films; I can think of FOXY BROWN, SHAFT, THE BLACK SIX and SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG right offhand. But, I have seen ENTER THE DRAGON and White was definitely channeling the character of Williams for a good portion of the movie.

How does BLACK DYNAMITE compare to other Blaxpoitation parodies? I thought I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA (4 1/2 stars) and UNDERCOVER BROTHER (4 stars) were really funny. POOTIE TANG (1 1/2 stars) was downright stupid, but some of the lines got stuck in my head for at least a month. The difference with BLACK DYNAMITE is realism. The filmmakers wanted the movie to represent a '70s crew trying to make the best movie they could with what they had. Remember, White is playing Ferrante Jones, who is playing Black Dynamite. That's why it's funny when White pauses to look at the low boom mic or expects the director to stop the scene when another "actor" flubs his line, or when the camera stays on someone just a beat too long once the scene is over. Even the soundtrack is geared for laughs. Composer Adrian Younge puts together numerous "I'm singing about what's happening on screen" songs that are riots.

Apparently, it IS easy being cheesy.


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