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Black Dynamite

(2009) ** 1/2 R
90 min. Apparition. Director: Scott Sanders. Cast: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Jimmy Walker Jr, Tommy Davidson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield.

/content/films/3684/1.jpgYou've got to hand it to Michael Jai White. Though he's worked steadily, White hasn't had a high-profile big-screen leading role since 1997's Spawn. So he co-wrote his own blaxploitation spoof and made himself the hero. Both are called Black Dynamite, and having collected the Spike Lee endorsement "Look out for this film. It's hilarious!", White has once more gotten his talent noticed in a big way.

Lee no doubt responded in large part to the audacious joke that frames Black Dynamite. The film begins with spokesman "Leon St. James" hawking Anaconda Malt Liquor, "the only malt liquor that carries the seal of excellence from Uncle Sam himself." This turns out to be something of a plot point, leading to a ass-kicking showdown when the evil criminal mastermind turns out to be the ultimate specimen of that social force known as "The Man," not Uncle Sam (what, are you crazy?) but the next best thing. It's a shame all of Black Dynamite couldn't be that sharp. As scripted by White & Byron Minns & Scott Sanders, it mostly aims at the broad side of the barn that is blaxploitation. This is well-mined comic territory—anyone remember Keenan Ivory Wayans' I'm Gonna Git You Sucka? how about Malcolm D. Lee's Undercover Brother?—as is the gestalt of '70s cinema (just ask Quentin Tarantino). Director Sanders dutifully—and it must be said, expertly—recreates the rough cinematography, cheesy production design (and burnt ochre color scheme), and incidental music that sounds like chintzy soul crossed with a Quinn-Martin TV score.

White plays the steroidal, strutting hero from the 'hood, a kung-fu expert with a CIA-authorized "license to kill" who goes on a mission of vengeance and righteousness when his undercover brother gets caught speaking the King's English. The plot embraces every cliche of form (clunky expository flashbacks) and function: cops, drugs, nightclubs, sex and sexism, an R rating allowing Sanders to go further than previous spoofs in emulating the blaxploitation style. For all this, Black Dynamite proves, oddly, to be comedically inert for most of its running time; if no one had ever spoofed blaxploitation before, the exactitude of this surgical parody would take it further with audiences, but as it is, the comic pickings are on the slim side. My favorite bits (other than the beginning and end) are the filmmakers' riffs on bad editing and bad acting, exemplified by the character who speaks all the "stage directions" along with his lines, as in "The militants turn, startled. This is private. How'd you get in here?" The film is also occasion to gather a fine selection of actors (Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, Phil Morris, Cedric Yarbrough, Tucker Smallwood, Mykelti Williamson, Bokeem Woodbine) to party like it's 1973.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 2/16/2010

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

On Blu-ray, Black Dynamite has a transfer that spectacularly recreates the flaws that normally are painstakingly removed from vintage titles: in other words, it's another flawless transfer from Sony, reproducing faithfully the filmmaker's intent. The color is beautifully screwy, contrast wavers intentionally, and film grain abounds: you'll love every minute of the visual parody. The sound mixers didn't go quite the same way: the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is much crisper in its effects, effective in its mix, and full-bodied in its music than one would expect of a vintage blaxploitation film, but that's probably for the best, giving Black Dynamite a bit of extra impact.

The nicely filled-out disc includes a fun-loving and informative commentary with director/co-writer Scott Sanders, actor/co-writer Michael Jai White, and actor/co-writer Byron Minns, as well as seventeen "Deleted and Alternate Scenes" (25:15, SD).

"Lighting the Fuse" (22:48, HD) is a fairly thorough making-of, including interviews with White, Sanders, Tommy Davidson, editor/composer Adrian Younge, Minns, Buddy Lewis, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, and production designer Denise Pizzini.

"The '70s: Back in Action" (14:12, HD) goes more deeply into period recreation inconcept and design. Participants include White, Sanders, Younge, Carter, Pizzini, Davidson, Minns, Lewis, and Richardson-Whitfield.

"The Comic-Con Experience" (18:04, HD) records for posterity film critic Elvis Mitchell moderating the Comic-Con panel with Sanders, Minns, White, and Richardson-Whitfield.

Lastly, the disc includes movieIQ functionality via BD-Live.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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