Black Dynamite (Blu-ray)(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2.16.2010)
Even more Grindhouse than Grindhouse, Scott Sanders’ super sly sophomore feature satirizes, deconstructs and duly honors seventies-era blaxploitation cinema with intelligent affection. In roughly the same tradition as the Wayans’ I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and the craptastic Eddie Griffin vehicle Undercover Brother, Black Dynamite re-establishes the black counter-culture genre’s trademark clichés: pimps, ho's, nun chucks, a general porno ambiance, insane conspiracy curveballs... and all that jive.
But much more fascinating is the film's artful application of deliberate technical snafus that traditionally came while making films of this ilk on the super fly. Dipping boom mics, clumsy zooms and awkward cue card readings give off a goofy vibe that’s suitably nostalgic and surprisingly endearing. Black Dynamite’s attention to historical detail is as rigorous as Todd Haynes’ appropriation of the melodrama in Far From Heaven. Sure, Quentin Tarantino has gone here before, but if only once, it’s nice to see someone else’s winning take on exploitation parody. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if Sanders followed-up with several similarly-styled spin-offs.
Co-writer Byron Minns, star/co-writer Michael Jai White and Sanders have clearly done their homework and know exactly when to pull back on their more absurdist tendencies to pay proper respect to a film movement that has more credibility than one might think. A lot of these films were major box office successes that saved studios from financial ruin. From both a commercial and cultural perspective, blaxploitation is an essential (if under-valued) chapter in American cinema.
White plays the titular Dynamite to deadpan perfection. Who would’ve thought that the guy who once played Spawn could pull-off being so damn cool so damn well? Dynamite is an ex-CIA agent/former Vietnam vet/full-time kung fu lothario, who’s out to avenge the demise of his brother (real brother, not brotha) at the hands of local drug lords. Along the way, Dynamite uncovers a bizarre series of schemes that have something to do with the Vietcong, Watergate and a mysterious brand of malt liquor that shrinks black mens' penises. The latter plot element provides the film's sole major mis-step in one particularly horrific moment (use your imagination).
Despite the fact that the film’s visual palette is supposed to appear cheap, grainy and decidedly retro, this Blu-ray looks terrific. Clarity is outstanding and the film’s distinctively funky color-schemes are appropriately tacky. Equal praise goes to the disc’s 5.1 audio mix, which adds punch to the seventies-style soundtrack and frequent action sequences.
This disc also comes with several noteworthy extras. First up is a detailed commentary track from Sanders, Minns and White. Like I previously mentioned, these guys know a lot about the genre they’re riffing on -- and this track is all the proof you need.
Next up is a memorable look at how the film was initially spawned (pun definitely intended), developed into a short and subsequently a feature. We also get a pretty decent Comic-Con panel discussion hosted by Elvis Mitchell and 25 minutes of hit-and-miss deleted material. Added bonus: both featurettes are in HD.
Those who pick this up in high-def will be happy to learn that Sony’s Blu-ray comes with some added bells and whistles. The 70’s: Back in Action is a rather nice 15-minute glimpse at how the filmmakers crafted the film's retro look: from the wacky wardrobes to the synthy soundtrack. Another bonus bonus is the always-useless Sony BD exclusive, movieIQ, a jive-ass-turkey of an extra if I ever saw one.
Call me crazy, but Sanders and co. have made one of the funniest and most inspired films of 2009. Though I’m not surprised that this film came and went under everyone’s radar, it should earn a broader audience on home video and, hopefully, play to many inebriated late-night audiences. I know it will in my hood. -- Neil Karassik