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Movie Review: Black Dynamite at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2009

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Spoofs are a very hard type of movie to get right. Classic examples such as Airplane! and the Naked Gun series (is it a coincidence they both star Leslie Nielsen?) still show us all to this day how it should be done, and so many have failed to get it right since their release. The barrage of movie references in the Scary Movie series, for example, is exactly how a spoof movie should not be done.

Taking a leaf out of Grindhouse's book (it even has a fake trailer before it), Black Dynamite spoofs exploitation movies, specifically blaxploitation cinema. It's not the only one to do this kind of thing – I'm Gonna' Git You Sucka', Undercover Brother and Hollywood Shuffle to name but a few – but it stands out amongst them. Michael Jai White (who some may remember from Spawn) plays the titled role perfectly in a movie that looks at the funny side of Shaft.

When the younger brother of Black Dynamite – the no messin' African-American ladies man – is killed, he sets out on a mission to find out who killed him. Along the way he uncovers a ploy that's much bigger than just his brother's death, one which leads him higher up the chain of power than he ever thought.

Black Dynamite has the great fortune of pretty much guaranteeing to please two types of movie goers out there; fans of blaxploitation cinema and fans of satire. Much like Airplane! or Shaun of the Dead, it's as much as much part of the genre as it is a parody of it (well, maybe it's a bit more of the latter, but it's close enough). Admittedly, you'd need to have some sort of knowledge of the type of film first seen in the '70s to get some of the humour, but even if you don't there's plenty of slapstick and silly humour to appease. It has cult film written all over it, with its dialogue that begs to be quoted alongside the likes of The Big Lebowski and This Is Spinal Tap. It'll no doubt become a future fan-favourite once it makes its way outwards from the festival circuit and onto DVD (I can't see this one doing very well in the general theatrical market).

At first glance, the setting, the look, the clothing, and the dialogue is all quintessential '70s blaxploitation attributes. But if you look closer you can see the exaggeration in place – parody demands that sort of thing. Just as much as there is biting satire of this very specific genre, there's also an abundance of silliness peppered throughout the movie. Over-the-top fight scenes, overly dramatic dialogue and ridiculous characters with ridiculous names – Cream Corn, Nipsy, Tasty Freeze – make for an extremely fun experience.

The silliness of the movie is a tone that only lasts so long before it gets a bit tiresome. Black Dynamite sits at just under 85 minutes long, and that turns out to be a perfect length for it. Just when it felt like it loses its steam, the movie ended, with a hilarious animated credit sequence notwithstanding. It realises you can't drag this kind of thing out, and gives us just enough of what it has to offer, but most importantly, not too much.

The key to Black Dynamite, just as with any good spoof movie, is that the characters play everything with a straight face. It's something that the Scary Movie series, to use it as an example again, doesn't seem to realise; the characters within those movies acknowledge it's a movie and a spoof, which is ultimately why they grow tiresome after whatever initial giggles you may get from the plethora of referential jokes fade away. Director Scott Sanders, co-writing with Byron Minns and star Michael Jai White, thankfully never fall into this trap with Black Dynamite, keeping the mocking flavour consistent but still staying respectful of blaxploitation cinema.

Black Dynamite may very well fair better when viewing it within a midnight or festival crowd, and might not do anything for those who are entirely unfamiliar with the world of blaxploitation. But for anyone who has at least some idea of the sub-genre, the film is an utter blast from start to finish. Importantly it respects the type of movie it's spoofing, and never takes itself too seriously, even if within itself it all is crucially played with a straight face. It provides a great mix of the absurd and ridiculous, the silly and the clever, all packaged with the '70s blaxploitation attire. And I loved every second of it.

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About Ross Miller