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BLACK DYNAMITE, 2009
Cast: Michael Jai White, Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, Kevin Chapman, Richard Edson, Darrel Heath, Buddy Lewis
This is the story of 1970s African-American action legend Black Dynamite. The Man killed his brother, pumped heroin into local orphanages, and flooded the ghetto with adulterated malt liquor. Black Dynamite was the one hero willing to fight The Man all the way from the blood-soaked city streets to the hallowed halls of the Honky House..
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The history of film is rife with films that were labours of love which took a considerable amount of time to come to fruition. One of the most famous being John Huston’s adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling short story The Man Who Would Be King (1975). An ardent fan of Kipling since childhood, Huston spent over twenty years trying to make the film a reality. The final result was a superbly made and grandly entertaining adventure in the tradition of such Hollywood classics as Gunga Din (1939), which itself was based on a Kipling poem.
Unfortunately, not all labour of love films are gems, and star/co-writer Michael Jai White and director/co-writer Mark Sanders’ spoof of and tribute to 1970s Blaxploitation movies, Black Dynamite, is one such misfire.
White (who’s also a professional martial artist best known for the ill-fated 1997 movie adaptation of the celebrated Todd McFarlane comic book series Spawn) is a big fan of Blaxploitation movies, and conceived of an idea for one that he would star in. White convinced Sanders (a director friend whom he had worked with ten years previously) and Byron Minns (another friend that is also an actor and professional martial artist) to flesh out his concept into a feature-length screenplay.
Black Dynamite tells the story of an ultra cool and swinging early seventies African-American former C.I.A. agent, of the same name, who sets out to bring down “The Man” after his brother is murdered, and proliferating African-American orphanages with heroin and African-American neighbourhoods with tainted malt liquor.
This is the standard plot of most Blaxploitation movies, a B-grade genre that began with serious intentions and, to some degree, helped Hollywood to stay afloat and finance the high art they were making at the time, before it slipped into self-parody and eventually faded away, due to the birth of the Hollywood blockbuster in the mid seventies. Today, Blaxploitation is solely a time capsule guilty pleasure.
Black Dynamite parodies and pays tribute to such Blaxploitation classics as the Shaft trilogy (1971-’73), Superfly (1972), The Mack (1973) and Dolemite (1975). Every aspect of the production, from the wooden and over-the-top acting, cartoonish action sequences, sexiness, flashy camera work, choppy editing, technical flubs, continuity errors, 1970s wardrobe and décor, and funky r&b musical score, are spot on. Director Sanders chose to shoot on 16mm colour reversal stock to achieve an authentic grainy seventies look.