I’m Sorry I Pimp Slapped You Into That China Cabinet
The hero of our story, and the future guest star of all your sex dreams, is Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White), a Death by Chocolate of Dolemite, Jim Brown, Shaft, and Barack Obama. He's an ass-kicking, kung fu-fighting, lady-seducing sex machine. When his brother is gunned down by unseen forces, Black Dynamite takes to the streets to right the wrongs with his well-oiled nunchauku and a smooth mustache. That's pretty much the bones of the deal, but the bad motherfucker goes rolling through pool halls, jungle islands, and Roscoe's Chili and Donuts, all the while keeping orphans off smack and stomping down the evil forces of whitey and Anaconda Malt Liquor. And that's the supreme beauty of Black Dynamite. Even when it takes the A-Train to Unbelievably Shitballs Retarded Station, it's such an incredibly fun ride; you hang your head out the window and scream.
I have a newfound respect and admiration for Michael Jai White. Which is to say I actually have some now. As far as I knew, dude was Mike Tyson, Spawn, and then gone. He seemed to be sifting through the dregs left by Ving Rhames, who had always been sifting through the castoffs of Samuel L. Jackson. I sincerely underestimated how incredible he is. White co-wrote the script with his director Scott Sanders and Byron Minns (who plays Bullhorn in the movie). It would be simple to just point out all the over-the-top dialogue and crazy-ass character names -- Tasty Freeze, Kotex, Sweetmeat, Chocolate Giddy-Up, Cream Corn, Afrodeity, etc. But what makes Black Dynamite so brilliant is the careful and smart interior set-ups. There are some of the same boom-in-shot and botched editing trickery that the Grindhouse boys used. Yet it goes beyond that. One of the actresses gives a melodramatic speech, where it cuts back and forth between Black Dynamite and her lamenting. We see an obviously glycerine tear trailing down her cheek, which is gone in the next shot, only to come back later. Black Dynamite stands up during a speech, going out of frame. When the camera catches up with him, it slightly wavers as if an inexperienced cameraman were still trying to set up his shot. Just before the end of the speech, White looks off camera where the director would be standing, as if expecting a cut or trying to get a line read. My favorite moment came during a fight sequence when one of the actors accidentally slaps the other in the face. The actor turns away muttering, "Motherfuck -- " and the scene sloppily cuts back to the fight sequence. Instead of just utilizing cheap blaxploitation flubs as simple puns, they layer the entire film with it.
What's particularly impressive is how seriously the cast takes this. It's not like they're setting up yuks, but rather they are sincere about making a very bad movie very well. It reminds me of the Wayans back when they were good. I rarely laugh out loud in theatres -- mostly because I'm joyless, misanthropic, and hold the firm belief the laughter died with George Carlin -- but I sincerely wept with mirth. Michael Jai White has to carry most of the film on his shoulders, and he just fucking kills it. He goes from scowling and haunted stares to crazy whooping Kiais effortlessly. You never once feel like he's playing a spoof -- he embodies a legitimate entry into the whole black badass cannon. It's just a goddamn lowdown dirty shame he'll get zero recognition for his performance. The Academy will give Robert Downey, Jr. a nomination for playing the same character in blackface, but fuck it if someone does it for real, and with talent.
Sanders and White assembled an unbelievably fantastic cast. There are so many cameos, it's like playing the Inner City Where's Waldo of Underappreciated Blacktors. The only ones he missed were Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and David Alan Grier. Playing various pimps, hustlers, and thugs in facial hair that makes them damn near unrecognizable are John Salley, Cedric Yarbrough, Bokeem Woodbine (you're still alive -- good for you), Mykelti Williamson -- proving he's more than Bubba Gump -- Brian McKnight, and Arsenio No I'm Not Kidding, Seriously. It's Arsenio Motherfucking Hall. Even with my semi-annual Coming to America watching, I forget how goddamn funny that man is. But my favorite inclusion was Tommy Davidson as Cream Corn. Short of Robert Townsend, I don't think there is another black actor working today who is less appreciated than that man. I cannot fathom why he's not getting more work. He got sucked into the torpor of the Wayans and marooned in the Comedy Attic with Garry Shandling and the Amazing Jonathan.
Even when it's meandering through the goofball ending, Black Dynamite is kicking ass and taking names. More importantly, it's just an incredibly fun and enjoyable movie. Ever since the long forgotten days of back-of-the-theater gropefests, I forgot how much goddamn fun a movie theater can be. I laughed so hard I clutched my sides and actually blew snot out of one nostril. I might have high-fived one of the guys next to me. I think I inadvertently made a donation to the United Negro College Fund. It was real, and it was spectacular. I can easily see some filmgoers -- let's call them morons -- watching this and not being smart enough to get it. But if you get the chance, get a bunch of friends, get liquored up, get your hair did, and get your ass to a screening post haste. I want this motherfucker to dark horse Saw: The Quickening out of the number one spot. It's an impossible dream, but I can dig it.