Prashant Gupta
Owen Gleiberman
October 14, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Black Dynamite

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
90 minutes
Limited Release Date
10/16/09
performer
Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Michael Jai White, Arsenio Hall, Nicole Sullivan
director
Scott Sanders
distributor
Columbia Pictures
author
Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White
genre
Comedy

We gave it an A

In the joke I remember best from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), a pimp saunters down the street in platform heels so tall they have aquariums inside. You won’t find any gags like that in Black Dynamite, the new madcap-?brilliant, but infinitely more super-sly, satire of blaxploitation films. Yes, we’re invited to giggle at the wide-lapelled ’70s mack-daddy suits, the gutter-jive dialogue, and the indomitable swagger of Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White), a hustler, Vietnam vet, and former CIA agent who rules the streets with a .44 Magnum and, on occasion, a pair of nunchucks he wields like a kung-fu master. Black Dynamite, though, is less a parody than an almost fetishistically exacting re-creation. The director, Scott Sanders, might be making the third featurette of the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse. He captures not just the tropes of blaxploitation flicks but the feel of them: the grainy film stock and overbright lighting; the wah-wah-pedal funk that faded in and out of scenes almost at will; the way that the garish dramas of urban cruelty and violence played out in actual, cheap-wood-paneled living rooms, giving the films the atmosphere of porn movies with slightly better acting.

So if Black Dynamite is that much of a Xerox copy of what it’s satirizing, why watch it at all? Why not just rent Willie Dynamite or Super Fly? Because Sanders, while playing the details straight, draws attention to them in a way the original films didn’t. He gooses the built-in contradiction of blaxploitation films: They were pulp fantasies of infinite power and machismo — in essence, black Superman fantasies — made in a style so crude, on budgets so meager, that an absurd degree of wish fulfillment was encoded into their very tawdriness.

White, who co-wrote the script with Sanders and Byron Minns, plays Black Dynamite with an impeccable poker-faced scowl and a hint of something more; one of the film’s juiciest jokes is that he’s the only actor on screen who reads his lines with even a pinch of subtext. Black Dynamite starts out trying to solve his brother’s murder, then goes on a crusade to rid his hood of smack, finally going up against the Man in ? a malt-liquor-meets-Watergate conspiracy plot that leads all the way to…well, a very big house. Along the way, Black Dynamite blends satire, nostalgia, and cinema deconstruction into a one-of-a-kind comedy high. A

See all of this week’s reviews

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