Saturday, 27 January 2018

Black Dynamite (Scott Sanders, 2009)

If this is America in the 70s, and you need someone to take down the Man, there is only one hero for the job: Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White).

I love this movie so much. Parody movies are so hard to pull off -  most of them just feel like lazy riffs on whatever genre they are spoofing. Like Airplane!, Black Dynamite is a lovingly crafted, laugh-out-loud skewering/tribute that also functions as a great comedy.

And a lot of its success is down to its co-writer/star Michael Jai White.

Back in the nineties, Jai White gained prominence after playing Mike Tyson in a TV biopic and playing one of the first African American comic book movie heroes in 1997's Spawn. That movie did not do that well, but Jai White has continued to work, popping up in various big movies (The Dark Knight), and carving out a solid career in DTV action flicks.

With Black Dynamite, I think he has found cinematic immortality. Because this movie is a masterpiece.

There are so many great scenes to pick from - the meeting of the pimp council; Black Dynamite learning of his brother's death; the fight with Fiendish Dr Wu; the final battle between Black Dynamite and Richard Nixon - but my personal favourite is the Eureka moment where Black Dynamite uses a series of inane clues to figure out the plot. I won't go into detail but it is the highlight of the movie.

Jai White's performance is so brilliant it is a real indictment against Hollywood that he did not get some bigger breaks. What makes his performance so good is that there is no attempt to play into the joke. White plays every scene totally straight.

What makes his portrayal even funnier is that he is not even playing Black Dynamite: in a nod to the action stars (Fred Williamson, Jim Brown) of the genre, he is playing an ex-footballer playing Black Dynamite. If you pay attention (and I only caught this after hearing White on the Nerdist podcast), Jai White works in moments where this 'offscreen' character breaks character (like the fact that the reason Black Dynamite can only turn his head one way is because of a neck injury the actor sustained during his football career).

Even if you are not paying attention, it is not hard to catch the broader meta-narrative going on 'off-screen': an angry actor is replaced mid-scene when a fake punch connects; a boom mike appears in the frame during Dynamite's big speech; an actress talks over Dynamite's line, causing him to break character; the same stuntman dies five times throughout the movie... the movie is filled with nuggets like this.

Along with Jai White and the rest of the cast, director/co-writer Scott Sanders deserves kudos for his pitch-perfect balancing of making a movie that both evokes the period of its 'making' while simultaneously making fun of it.

One of the best comedies of the last decade, Black Dynamite is highly recommended.

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