I’ve never seen a blaxploitation movie — well, all right, does one-third of Foxy Brown count? — so maybe I’m not the ideal viewer for Black Dynamite, a loving spoof of/homage to that ridiculous '70s genre. But if you’re like me and know only the well-worn tropes, don’t worry: Black Dynamite is so over-the-top you get the idea, and more importantly, it’s funny.
Black Dynamite (played with some kind of brilliance by Michael Jai White) is a super fly street hustler with all the bravado and kung fu moves to avenge the death of his brother Jimmy (Baron Vaughn). He is also capable of pleasuring at least three women at once. And yes, his name is actually Black Dynamite. Lying on her deathbed, his mother calls him Black Dynamite. When it turns out that Jimmy’s death reaches a little further than just the mob, going all the way to D.C., Black Dynamite and his gang of pimps take it upon themselves to unravel the unbelievably complicated mystery.
Speaking of the pimps, let’s talk about them. They’re dressed just like all pimps should be, with colorful suits, feathered hats, canes, and platform shoes. They’ve got names like Sweet Meat, Tasty Freeze, and Giddy Up. They’re at the center of one of the film’s funniest scenes, a business meeting in which they discuss profit margins, projections, and all that kind of thing with hilarious seriousness. It’s the kind of straight-faced riffing Black Dynamite does at its best. And even besides the pimps, the movie gets the '70s look just right.
With the Grindhouse double whammy of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, with which Black Dynamite shares the same purposefully kitschy '70s spirit, there were film scratches and “missing reels,” but it was obvious they were made with state-of-the-art technology. But if I hadn’t known any better, I would’ve thought this was a lost '70s movie, with its grainy film, oversaturated colors, and pitch-perfect clothes and hair. Not to mention that soundtrack. Though I’ve never seen a blaxploitation movie, I’ve listened to blaxploitation soundtracks, and Adrian Younge’s funkified score is close to perfection. It might not reach the highs of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, but the mere fact that this is a spoof and I’m comparing them at all means that something went right. Bonus points for the descriptive lyrics.
Ultimately, Black Dynamite works better as a collection of gags than as a whole movie, but what’s the harm in that when it’s as fun as it is? Black Dynamite takes on a houseful of martial artists with naught but his nunchucks and fists (calling to mind a schlocky Bruce Lee), stops a smack-addicted kindergartner from shooting up, takes cover behind a rolling doughnut during a shoot-out, and does basically every outrageously badass thing a movie hero has a right to.
It’s not consistent enough to be great, and its final third drags under the weight of some nonetheless amusing exposition, but it picks back up for a gut-busting final showdown it would be unfair to reveal. Simply put, whether you’re a blaxploitation expert or you think Coffy is just a drink, if you’re in the mood for an afro-wearin’, Magnum-totin’ hero to stick it to The Man, Black Dynamite is the baddest motherfunker for the job.