What in the world happened to spoof movies to make them such unmitigated garbage?! Long gone are the days where “Airplane”, “Space Balls”, and “Young Frankenstein” set the bar for spoof comedy. Today, the terms “spoof” or “parody” are far more synonymous with “Disaster Movie”, “A Haunted House”, and the increasingly atrocious “Scary Movie” series, all of which are to laughter what salt is to an open wound – nothing but pain for the one on the receiving end…! Yet, strangely enough, the martial arts genre has been responsible for some of the few genuinely hilarious spoofs of the 21st century – Stephen Chow’s “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle” immediately spring to mind, along with Michael Jai White’s hellacious send up to blaxploitation flicks, “Black Dynamite”!
In addition to scripting the film with fellow blaxploitation fan Byron Minns, Michael Jai White leads the way as the titular crime fighter: Black Dynamite. Jai-White’s career has largely seen him assume stoic characters in more straightforward films, and this is by far his most comedic role to date (the contrast between his portrayal of Black Dynamite and his role in the film immediately preceding it, “Blood and Bone”, could not be more vast). Minns assumes the role of Black Dynamite’s ally, Bullhorn, who has a proclivity for speaking in rhymes, while Salli Richardson portrays his love interest, black power activist Gloria Gray. Comedians Arsenio Hall and Nicole Sullivan make hilarious cameo appearances while Roger Yuan, often appearing as a nameless opponent while excelling at his more prominent villain roles, gives Black Dynamite one of his more formidable opponents, the Fiendish Dr. Wu. James McManus handles the duties of the arch-villain of the film, portraying a character whose identity shall be left a mystery here, this gives those who haven’t seen the film the opportunity to experience the splendid and absolutely hilarious climactic twist for themselves.
After his brother is murdered by the drug pushers who have turned his city into a cesspool of crime and corruption, former CIA operative, Black Dynamite, vows to bring justice to the guilty. His reinstatement into the CIA is contingent on his agreement to operate by the book, but Black Dynamite has never been one to treat authority figures with any seriousness. His investigation uncovers that his brother had himself been on assignment for the CIA, and his killers are pouring heroin into the local orphanages. Amidst bringing down the local drug operation and winning the affection of black power activist Gloria Gray, Black Dynamite also learns that the entire operation originated within the U.S. government after stumbling upon the ledger of a corrupt Congressman detailing the drug ring’s activities.
With the help of his trusted confidants Cream Corn, Bullhorn, Saheed, and two militant activists, Black Dynamite eventually traces the operation to a local warehouse, and learns of a secret operation named “Code Kansas”. However, their investigation turns up nothing but a stockpile of the government-produced Anaconda Malt Liquor. Frustrated by the continued elusiveness of the drug ring, Black Dynamite and his allies later piece together the truth behind the operation, deviously disguised within the liquor brand’s own slogan, and all part of a plot targeted at African-American men across the nation…
Like the film as a whole, the action in “Black Dynamite” is goofy, cartoonish fun! In forging his character’s fighting style, Jai-White primarily draws off his background in Shotokan Karate (note to the nitpickers – the fact that he continually refers to it as kung-fu throughout the film is completely intentional). In keeping with the blaxploitation theme, his movements are relatively basic and grounded in comparison to the gravity-defying juggernaut he portrays in “Blood and Bone” and “Never Back Down 2”. Jai-White also layers the combat with some very Jim Kelly-style kiai’s, and although he walks all over every opponent he faces with spectacular ease, the film never portrays him as an “Enter the Dragon”-esque Zen master and keeps the action strictly within the comedic tone established in the opening credits.
Further cementing the 70’s-era gimmick is Jai-White’s liberal use of the nunchaku throughout the film, popularized in the early 70’s by Bruce Lee (and outlawed in many nations following the popularity they achieved as a result). Few weapons are as closely associated with martial arts as the nunchaku, and for all the goofy, slapstick action that makes up this film, it’s not hard to be impressed when a true master of the weapon such as Jai-White is, is given an opportunity to cut loose with them. That being said, this is still a comedy, through and through, and when the opportunity arises for a joke at the nunchaku’s expense, “Black Dynamite” doesn’t hesitate to take it!
In its mission to be so intentionally bad, “Black Dynamite” is nothing but good fun! Michael Jai White has a serious talent for comedy and it shows in both his performance and the film as a whole. As modern spoof movies continue to increasingly resemble an endurance test of one’s capacity for mental and psychological torture, “Black Dynamite” is a true diamond in the rough – a rare spoof comedy with a genuine love for and understanding of its target. Even better, one with no shortage of slapstick martial arts action!
- Michael Jai White originally conceived the concept of the film during the making of “Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing”. While listening to the song “Super Bad” by James Brown on his iPod, he hit upon the idea of creating a modern blaxploitation film. Jai White had originally wanted to name the film after the song, but with the title “Superbad” being taken already, he later came up with the title “Black Dynamite”.
- In constructing the Black Dynamite character, Jai White rented a blue suit and photographed himself as he envisioned Black Dynamite, before showing it to Scott Sanders who subsequently agreed to direct the film. The suit Jai White wears in the photograph is the same one worn by Black Dynamite in the film’s climax.
- Following the release of the film, an animated series began on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, with White and many of the original cast members voicing their characters for the series.
Film Rating: 8/10