Comedy is a fickle film genre. It’s hard for a comedy to be timeless – what might be funny now is more likely than not to be considered gauche in just a few years. But sometimes, a comedy is able to achieve notoriety for being so funny, so absurd, that it can’t help but succeed and maintain its reputation as a gut-buster film. BLACK DYNAMITE is that kind of comedy.
BLACK DYNAMITE is a 2009 blaxploitation comedy that is every bit absurd as it is hilarious. The film follows Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White), a former CIA agent, who has vowed to rid the streets of drugs and crime following the death of his brother. Black Dynamite is the ultimate loose cannon, flagrantly ignoring the rule of law while delivering swift justice to all who oppose him.
The humor in BLACK DYNAMITE comes in all directions. The jokes all tend to land extremely well, some are well-timed and some are like time bombs – taking a few seconds before the punchline makes sense. My favorite funny bits in the film are built in how the film itself is shot. By creating BLACK DYNAMITE as a 1970s-era blaxploitation film, director Scott Sanders uses a lot of the tropes of low-budget films of that era and genre. It’s not uncommon to see a boom mic appear when a camera moves suddenly, or for an actor to subtly “forget” their lines. At one point during an action scene, there is an obvious cut that replaces one of the actors with a clear stunt double. There’s a clear lack of continuity in the film – it revels in being viewed as a poorly-made film, and that ironically makes it much more funny.
There is no doubt that this film would not exist without Michael Jai White. Quite simply, he is Black Dynamite. He plays the titular character with a perfect combination of swagger, charm, and simmering rage. His delivery is pitch-perfect, and he transcends the material to turn Black Dynamite into an iconic character that lives on long after the film ends. White clearly embraces every bit of nuance in his role, delivering his lines with an infectious passion. He is a commanding presence, and the film smartly orbits his character from start to finish.
It’s not uncommon for action comedies to jump out of the gate as a comedy, only to eschew the funny moments for action as the film reaches its final act. Thankfully, BLACK DYNAMITE does not fall into this trap – it remains thoroughly funny from start to finish. It roasts 1970s-era kung fu films, the Nixon presidency, and even the war on drugs. There is a wealth of targets throughout the film, and the film never pulls its punches. The action, meanwhile, remains entrenched in the fighting style of low-budget movies – much to the benefit of BLACK DYNAMITE. It’s not uncommon to laugh through the entirety of a fight scene – as wonderfully absurd and zanily choreographed as they are.
Even the music in BLACK DYNAMITE is deserving of recognition. The music is a mix of funk and R&B, somehow feeling both completely at home and also hilariously out-of-place. Perhaps the best running joke involves the chorus of the film’s theme song (“Dynomite“) playing every time Black Dynamite punches someone. There is no question that the music totally bolsters the film, offering additional authenticity to an already authentic-feeling film.
BLACK DYNAMITE is a timeless comedy. It is a perfect combination of the blaxploitation genre, 1970s aesthetic, purposefully low-budget filmmaking, and commentary on life in the African American community. What ties all these elements together is the film’s embrace of incredibly funny jokes and an inability to take itself seriously. BLACK DYNAMITE is the kind of film that you can revisit time and time again, always finding something new that a previous viewing didn’t catch. It’s a film that is bursting with humor and oozing with swagger. It’s a deeply satisfying film experience.