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Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Black Dynamite

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Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Black Dynamite

Dolemite and its blaxploitation siblings were appealing in large part because, despite their amateurishness and outrageousness, they often took themselves and their sexy-cool poses seriously. Black Dynamite, on the other hand, is just a replica blaxploitation adventure in which actors pretend to be clueless about their own awfulness, a situation that turns out to be generally humorless and pointless, devoid as the film is of any commentary on the genre to which it’s paying loving tribute. Though Quentin Tarantino’s cinema history-referencing work does more than merely duplicate its forefathers, the director’s Kill Bill and Grindhouse endeavors are nonetheless primarily to blame for photocopy exercises like this, which afford directors and actors the chance to play dress up in the costumes and amidst the settings of the movies that inspired them.

Helmed by Scott Sanders and starring Michael Jai White as the titular vigilante super-mofo, Black Dynamite reproduces the extreme-contrast visual palette, lame musical cues, gratuitous violence, cheesy kung-fu combat, and macho ladies’ man one-liners of its predecessors, but its superfluous story about Black Dynamite’s efforts to avenge his brother’s death, clean up the smack-infested streets, and take down The Man never generates much comedic momentum. Part of this is due to the ho-humness of such one-note imitation, which quickly wears thin. Mostly, however, it’s because the filmmakers rarely take even the slightest of risks.

Randomly loony moments such as the sight of a brothel headmistress smoking a blatantly unlit cigarette are the finest, but they’re so few and far between that they register as anomalies among a plethora of predictable chop-socky gags and Black Dynamite threats and come-ons. His character’s ego as big as his muscles, Jai White’s embodiment of idealized African-American physical and sexual might is goofily pitch-perfect. Yet the nagging sense that he’s in on the joke renders his performance, and the rest of the proceedings, lifeless, to the point that even a finale involving penis-shrinking malt liquor conspiracies and a nunchuck-wielding Tricky Dick proves more bad than badass.

Black Dynamite @ the Tribeca Film Festival

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.