Parody films can be hit or miss. Mel Brooks provided us with a viable template, spoofing everything from Westerns (Blazing Saddles) to monster flicks (Young Frankenstein). In recent years, however, the genre has been all but run into the ground by Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, the RottenTomatoes pariahs responsible for Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie and Vampires Suck.
Then, in 2009, Michael Jai White decided to send up the blaxploitation genre, and the parody film was saved.
White is best known to mainstream audiences as Gambol, one of the mob bosses The Joker topples in The Dark Knight. But in the role of Black Dynamite, the eponymous protagonist of the film he co-wrote, White brings to life the most badass urban action star since Shaft. A kung-fu expert, Vietnam veteran, former CIA agent and incomparable lover, Black Dynamite doesn’t just poke fun at all the ridiculous tropes of the ’70s blaxploitation film — he owns them.
Black Dynamite adopts an absurdist tone as its hero strives to clean up the streets, avenge his brother’s death, and “fight smack in the orphanage.” His entourage of stock characters includes right-hand man Bullhorn (who can only speak in rhymes), conflicted pimp Chocolate Giddy-Up, and tough matron Honey Bee. His arch-nemesis? President Richard Nixon.
But the film does more than just recreate the traditional storytelling elements of the genre. The camerawork is shoddy and the shots oversaturated; actors flub lines on purpose; cuts are abrupt, jarring and frequently point to errors in production. It’s campy, self-reflective and acutely aware of itself. Don’t let Black Dynamite‘s surface levity fool you (for instance, in the Kung Fu Island showdown with Fiendish Dr. Wu) — this is, quite simply, one of the smartest comedies of our time.
Despite receiving stellar reviews and winning awards at numerous film festivals, Black Dynamite passed by largely unnoticed in its 2009 limited release. However, it has developed an ardent cult following and White plans to continue the franchise with an animated series (set to premiere on Adult Swim later this year) and a one-shot comic book.
Still not convinced? Check out the trailer: