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Black Dynamite (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/16/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/23/2010

I hate to sound like I'm talking down to my readers, but sometimes a history lesson is necessary for a review. Are you familiar with "Blaxploitation" films? (We can still say that, right?) Emerging in the 1970s, Blaxploitation movies featured predominantly African-American casts and were mostly action/thriller films. Typically set in the inner-city, these movies featured larger-than-life characters who routinely fought for justice (usually against White oppressors), while remaining strong Black heroes. Actors such as Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Melvin Van Peebles, and Richard Roundtree appeared in these movies which ranged from respectable to silly. While the genre doesn't officially exist any longer (does it?), that doesn't mean that it's been forgotten, as evidenced in Black Dynamite, which is a love letter to these films.

Michael Jai White stars as the title character in Black Dynamite, a tough guy who rules the streets of a Los Angeles neighborhood. Despite the fact that he has no discernible profession, everyone knows Black Dynamite -- some admire him, some fear him. When he learns that his brother has been killed, Black Dynamite begins to investigate the crime. Seeking vengeance, he interrogates one hoodlum after another, hoping to find clues. His old CIA buddy O'Leary (Kevin Chapman) warns Black Dynamite to leave the case alone, but this is ignored. Black Dynamite meets Gloria (Salli Richardson), a militant orphanage worker who agrees to help him. With the assistance of Bullhorn (Byron Minns) and Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), Black Dynamite uncovers a conspiracy with threatens the entire neighborhood.

I really hate to label things, but sometimes it is necessary, and Black Dynamite is difficult to pigeonhole. I can say that it's not a spoof of Blaxploitation movies. Keenan Ivory Wayan's I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and Undercover Brother (which is such an underrated movie!) are spoofs of Blaxploitation films, as they take the framework and stereotypes of these films and then fill them with jokes which make fun of the genre and also include timely cultural references. But, Black Dynamite also isn't a direct updating of Blaxploitation films -- in other words, it doesn't try to be a modern version of the genre.

Instead, Black Dynamite lies somewhere in between. On the surface, it is a homage to the classic Blaxploitation movies. Set in the early '70s, the movie features all of the trappings of these movies -- the strong hero, the afros, the loud clothes, the big cars, the White villains, the sexy ladies, and a lot of action. While Director Scott Sanders hasn't gone the full Grindhouse route with the look of the film, he's made sure to insert grainy stock footage of helicopters and car accidents, just as those movies from 40 years ago would have. While the movie retains the look and feel of these films, it also lovingly pokes fun at them, as it includes poorly edited fight sequences, footage which doesn't match, incredibly corny dialogue, impossible international travel, and the coup de grace, the shot in which Black Dynamite stands up too quickly and hits the plainly visible boom mic. The movie doesn't go the route of inserting any "modern" jokes, save for a gag involving the creation of Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles.

The problem with Black Dynamite is that it does its job too well. Consider the most successful satire films, Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Blazing Saddles. These movies work because one doesn't have to have a working knowledge of the genre being spoofed in order to get some of the jokes. Of course, if you're familiar with the movies being skewered then the movie is funnier, but it's not a prerequisite. However, Black Dynamite will have the most appeal to those who are familiar with Blaxploitation movies. For me, I know enough about them to be dangerous, but I haven't seen many of the movies, and it's not a genre that I enjoy. Thus, I got some of the jokes, and I could appreciate where the film was coming from, but too many times, Black Dynamite felt like a serious attempt to remake a movie from the '70s, as opposed to making fun of the genre. (The problems here are similar to those with movies like Planet Terror, where the satire/homage/genuine article lines get very blurry.) While I certainly appreciated what Black Dynamite was trying to do, I only laughed out loud once and smiled to myself a few times at certain jokes. Otherwise, the movie has a certain one-trick-pony feel to it and even at just 84 minutes, the tank runs dry during the final reel. Fans of Blaxploitation films will love Black Dynamite, while all others may not understand what all of the fuss is about.

Black Dynamite is prone to flashbacks on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. It's somewhat difficult to judge the video quality of the movie, as some of it is intentionally degraded. For the most part, the image is sharp and clear, showing little grain and no defects from the source material. However, there are plenty of shots, most notably the stock footage, which are very grainy and show some scratches. Throughout, the colors look good and the image has a nice level of detail. The picture is never too dark or bright. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. It's funny that the video is intentionally bad, as the audio is consistently great. The stereo effects are notably good and show nice detail. The surround sound effects during the action scenes are fantastic, as bullets ricochet all around us. The subwoofer gets a nice workout from gunshots and explosions.

The Black Dynamite Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Co-Writer Scott Sanders, Actor/Co-Writer Michael Jai White, and Actor/Co-Writer Byron Minns. The Disc contains seventeen DELETED AND ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 25 minutes. There are several new moments here, many featuring Mike Starr as an annoying mobster. The subplots presented here would have only slowed down the movie. "Lighting the Fuse" (23 minutes) is a detailed making-of which is comprised mostly of interviews with the filmmakers and cast as they discuss how the project came together. It looks at the cast and the production. "The '70s: Back in Action" (14 minutes) examines the work involved in re-creating the 1970s look, as well as a discussion of 70s fashion. "The Comic-Con Experience" (18 minutes) features a Q&A panel from San Diego.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long