Remember the blaxploitation films of the 1970’s? These films generally played on the ghetto stereotypes that would likely not be as well tolerated today. The films were populated with fur-adorned pimps driving in purple Caddys. The street language was almost indiscernible. The black population sat around drinking from large malt liquor bottles in brown paper bags. In a day where almost every potential racist remark is pounced upon, it’s hard to imagine that this kind of thing could have existed at all. But the point was that these films weren’t feeding into the stereotypes for the most part. They were making fun of them. They were showing us how ridiculous they looked when taken to such extreme. What’s more, the films offered the first real star vehicles for so many talented black actors. Certainly, the genre has always had its detractors, but they never seemed to cause a stir among the members of black leadership. The truth is that these films no more depicted black culture than mafia movies depict Italian culture. It’s just a lot of fun to poke fun. You gotta let your hair down, or frizz out, sometimes.
The genre was important during the time and its influence began to be felt in mainstream pictures of the era. Characters like these began to show up everywhere. Starsky And Hutch was a white cop , but their streets were often populated with these characters, most notably the Huggy Bear snitch. Even James Bond suspended his international fight with global domination crooks to tackle a gang of blaxploitation drug dealers in Live And Let Die. In the 1970’s you couldn’t get away from it. Some of these films became huge. Shaft and Super Fly became huge hits. The recently departed Rudy Ray Moore created Dolemite, a bad Kung Fu/kick butt and take names, F Bomb droppin’ bad dude. There’s no question that Moore’s character was a huge influence on Black Dynamite.
Black Dynamite started as just a small idea by Michael Jai White. He was listening to James Brown on the radio and had a flashback to the blaxploitation films from the 1970’s. He created the character of Black Dynamite. Together with some of his cronies, they put together a fake film trailer incorporated tons of silly stock footage with some new action scenes. The result brought the house down with anyone who saw it, and a feature film deal was on the table within days.
These films were also known for their low budget and guerilla filmmaking tactics. The motto for many of these films was “If we shot it, it makes the movie”. That means the movies were loaded with continuity errors, equipment malfunctions, and even poor editing. You might see an actor laugh after he thought a scene was over. There were boom mics and really bad ADR work. Stock footage was intercut so that you might see a red Pontiac go off a cliff only to watch a blue Mustang go tumbling down the cliff. The film stock was often the cheapest stuff available, which meant terrible grain and image quality. There were plenty of bare-chested “Big Mamas”, and F Bombs littered the dialog. Black Dynamite doesn’t miss a beat here. Every flaw and tradition of the genre is captured here. You’ll see actors adding stage directions to their dialog. Boom mics fill the top of frames. Stunt doubles will look nothing like their principles. Kung Fu fighting is so lame that many of the strikes don’t come anywhere near their targets, yet the “victim” is thrown across the room in any case the entire time. With characters like Cream Corn and Tasty Freeze, the satire is unmistakable. All the while the actors are winking at the audience
And that’s the only real flaw here. The cast is having an insanely great time. Much of the film is ad-libbed. While the cast absolutely captures the stereotypes of the genre, they often go too far. The winks can get too obvious. They often push a joke so far that it loses some of its impact. For the most part it’s all just incredible fun, however. You have to watch this one with tongue firmly planted in your cheek.
Jimmy (Vaughn) is an undercover CIA agent who has infiltrated the biggest smack gang in the country. But they’re on to him, and he gets wasted. That’s bad news for Jimmy. It’s worse news for the CIA. But it’s devastating news for the mob, because Jimmy’s brother is Black Dynamite (White). The cops investigating the crime are bracing for the worst, because Black Dynamite is going to rip the town apart trying to find out who killed his brother. He’s gonna be leaving a lot of dead bodies in his wake. Black Dynamite puts together a team, and they take on the entire criminal underworld. The team follows the bloody trail all the way to the white house and Tricky Dick himself, who’s pulling all of the strings. The country needs to be cleaned up, and Black Dynamite is the broom.
Black Dynamite is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 35 mbps. I’m going to say something that likely will sound pretty odd. This picture quality is so bad that only high definition can provide the detail to bring out just how bad it really is. Grain is thick due to the 16mm film stock utilized. The film has intentional print defects which include scratches and dust specks. But the HD presentation has the detail to make sure these flaws don’t escape your notice. I suspect that on standard DVD this might just look like a bad movie and not an intentionally bad movie. There’s almost no contrast, and this image is about as sharp as a baseball. Give tons of credit, because this is not simply a matter of looking bad. It’s the nuance that makes this truly appear to be a low budget film from 1970.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio brings with it its own set of invented problems. Hiss and errant noises are all part of the theme here. Sometimes the dialog is muddied, and nothing comes through in anything approaching dynamic fashion. The new original period songs sound like they came from an old vinyl record album. Again, this presentation had to be good to be so bad.
There is an Audio Commentary with director Scott Sanders and actors/co-writers Michael Jai White and Byron Minns. It’s a pretty entertaining look at the film as it unfolds. These guys had a blast together, that much is evident.
Additional Footage: (22:15) SD There are 17 scenes here with a handy play all. These scenes actually serve the story a bit and make this less of the disjointed piece it is intended to be.
Lighting The Fuse: (22:48) This is almost like a cast and crew commentary. They all talk about the original genre and their favorite moments and actors. There’s a lot of love for Rudy Ray Moore, who is the biggest influence in this piece. The feature covers a lot of ground from casting, locations, sets and props.
The 70’s Back In Action: (14:13) Same participants talk about recreating the blaxploitation look and feel. They talk about the intentional errors. There is repeated stuff here from the first feature.
The Comic Con Experience: (18:04) The cast and crew answer questions at the annual event.
BDLive and Movie IQ
If you’ve never seen a blaxploitation film, this one won’t be nearly as funny as it should be. You have to be willing to just let it happen. For me it was very funny even if the last 30 minutes went too far afield with the whole Richard Nixon thing. The film disappointed at the box office, bringing in a paltry $240,000. That leads me to believe the audience here is just too limited. That’s a shame, really, because I’d love to see more Black Dynamite, but that doesn’t appear likely. If you want to clean up your streets of the smack dealers and the 70’s clichés, “I know just the cat”.