Black Dynamite (2009)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 10/17/09
Director: Scott Sanders
Written by: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns
Cast: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Roger Yuan, Arsenio Hall

Awesome! This tailor made star vehicle for Michael Jai White is a brilliant showcase for his talents as an actor, martial artist, comedian, and writer. "Black Dynamite" is an homage/parody of those awesome blaxploitation action flicks of the 1970's, which unfortunately limits the target demographic to middle-aged film geeks. As such, mainstream audiences will get very little out of it and probably just scratch their heads in confusion. Michael Jai White is Black Dynamite, an ex-CIA agent and Vietnam vet who is quite popular with the ladies. When his brother turns up dead, he goes on a rampage of vengeance to find who's responsible. Meanwhile, The Man is pumping the local orphanage full of heroin and the corrupt politicians have control of the equally corrupt police force. Only Black Dynamite has the power to clean up the streets and avenge his brother's death, which ultimately leads him to the White House and a surprise confrontation with the Commander In Chief.

First of all, kudos to Mr. White for his stunning performance. He IS Black Dynamite, and his portrayal is so genuine and sincere, that you can't help but believe him. You rarely see this kind of confidence and force of personality in films anymore. He also gets to show off his impressive fighting chops, recalling memories of action hero Jim Kelly. White is the real deal, and while the fight sequences mock the 70's style of fight choreography, they're executed in a very serious and proficient manner. The supporting cast is delightful and they embrace the 70's fashions, stereotypes, and pimp culture with flair. Salli Richardson-Whitfield is the token activist and love interest, and while she's incredibly pretty (and has an AMAZING afro), she doesn't seem to be in on the joke and looks visibly uncomfortable with her role.

Apart from Black Dynamite himself, the most remarkable aspect of the film is how it looks. The filmmakers certainly did their homework and truly admire and appreciate the source material. The bad lighting, focus pulls, snap zooms, continuity flaws, outrageous fashions, film grain, and color palette are all lovingly recreated to immerse you in Black Dynamite's world, and the subtlety of those details is where the film succeeds best. The funk soundtrack is also superb and complements the look and feel of the picture perfectly. The writing is a mixed bag, and while a lot of it is extremely good, there's an equal amount that is forcibly, and painfully unfunny. Again, the story works best when it's a subtle homage rather than a blatant parody, and nowhere is this more evident than in the final reel. Sadly, the film falls apart right at the end when the filmmakers chose to go over-the-top silly instead of continuing to play it straight. I suppose in their defense, a lot of 70's kung fu movies also got extremely silly at the end ("Sister Street Fighter" (1976) immediately comes to mind), but it just doesn't work in "Black Dynamite's" favor. For a film with such a strong first half, it's disappointing to see it self-destruct at the end, and that ultimately keeps me from giving it four stars. Still, if you've ever seen a film that starred Jim Kelly, Rudy Ray Moore, Antonio Fargas, Fred Williamson, or Pam Grier, you owe it to yourself to check out "Black Dynamite."