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Blu-ray Review: Black Dynamite

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After a good 20 years of being subjected to unfunny spoofs (usually bearing a Wayans brother in the cast or crew) that specifically target modern mainstream movies that will be forgotten in another two decades, it’s nice to see filmmakers revisiting an older genre that has survived the test of time. Case in point: Black Dynamite, a wild send-up to the classic blaxploitation films of the ‘70s, co-written and starring Michael Jai White.

Paying tribute to almost every single blaxploitation feature ever made, Black Dynamite reminds us of how truly absurd the original classic films often were. In one hilarious scene, an actor accidentally gets slapped in the face during a fight scene, to which an obvious jump-cut replaces him with an even more obvious stuntman. The use of stock footage (much of which is from Al Adamson’s Dynamite Brothers, which was recently roasted in Cinematic Titanic Live: East Meets Watts) is deliberately apparent: in one case, the same car crash is used twice. “Actors” intentionally flub their lines, while a boom mic pops in to get its share of camera time during a tense moment — just like in the good ol’ urban action movies of yesteryear.

Looking better than ever, White attempts to erase the memory of Spawn from our minds by taking us into the jive-talkin’ world of the early 1970s. The mob is moving in. Drugs are being distributed to the kids. But don’t worry, good residents of the ghetto: Black Dynamite (White) is here — ready to kick as much ass as it takes to make the streets safe again via his amazing kung fu skills while he in turn searches for the men responsible for his brother’s murder. Of course, he also finds time to smooth talk a lovely Black Panther named Gloria (Salli Richardson-Whitfield).

Along the way, Black Dynamite learns that a major conspiracy is brewing aimed at the black folk (specifically the men). And so he and his hand-selected gang of pimps and militants (including Byron Minns, Tommy Davidson, and Phil Morris) plan an international invasion to take down the Fiendish Dr. Fu (Roger Yuan, who also served as fight choreographer) — bringing the interchangeable blaxploitation/chop-socky genres together into one crazy mix. A meeting of pimps back in the city gives former late night talk show host Arsenio Hall a chance to revisit his comedic upbringings.

Black Dynamite has a lot going on. And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t enough to parody from vintage blaxploitation films. Nevertheless, there may be just a bit too much here for one feature to contain. But the fact that Black Dynamite not only parodies the works of Fred Williamson, Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Rudy Ray Moore (to name a few), but still manages to treat them with the respect they deserve is extremely commendable (something the Wayans brothers haven’t been able to do since I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka!).

But creator/actor/co-writer Michael Jai White doesn‘t deserve all the credit, folks. Director Scott Sanders (who also co-wrote along with actor Byron Minns) gets a great big kudos for keeping a film that could easily lose its steam together. And editor/composer Adrian Younge also deserves a great amount of credit for keeping the soundtrack as authentic as can be via original compositions (performed entirely with authentic instruments of the early ‘70s) and some classic music drops (fans of Alan Tew will notice a few segments of “The Detectives” here and there).

Sanders’ noteworthy efforts to keep Black Dynamite looking like it just fell out of the ‘70s is also notable in the film itself. Unlike modern movies, which can use anything from digital to 35mm negative film stock, Black Dynamite was shot using the almost archaic 16mm reversal film stock (which many a blaxploitation film used back in the day) to give it an even more authentic feel. Because of this unique choice, one might think that a High Def transfer would be even funkier than an Isaac Hayes score. Instead, Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray presents the movie in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer and a 1.85:1 ratio, preserving the film’s original theatrical exhibition. On Blu-ray, Black Dynamite comes through looking like the sleek mutha he is, and offers vibrant tones and contrast all around.

Sound-wise, Black Dynamite sports a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Lossless soundtrack. Whether it be the film’s deliberately hokey dialogue or Adrian Younge’s masterful music, the disc’s one and only audio option presents its mix quite well. English (SDH), French, and Spanish subtitles are included.

In the special features department, Black Dynamite offers an audio commentary with director/co-writer Scott Sanders and actors/co-writers Michael Jai White and Byron Simms. The trio goes over the genesis of the film as well as the classic moving pictures that inspired them. Three featurettes (“Lighting The Fuse,” “The ‘70s: Back In Action,” and “The Comic-Con Experience”) are all presented in 1080p HD and feature interviews with various cast and crew members — but, unfortunately, all three cover the same ground at times). A whopping 25 minutes worth of Deleted/Alternate Scenes (in Standard Definition) gives us a look at many segments that didn’t make the final cut — most of which feature co-stars Mike Starr and Tucker Smallwood (as well as a really hot redhead who gets nekkid). Lastly, there’s a handful of trailers. The disc also contains an option to watch the main feature via Sony’s Movie (which requires Internet hookup) and is BD-Live enabled.

Black Dynamite is a potent satire — one that manages to imbibe the spirit and energy of early blaxploitation features without treating them like garbage. There are a number of spots where it threatens to lose its appeal, but, in short, Black Dynamite is without a doubt the best satire made within the last ten years.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.