Does the world really need another blaxploitation spoof?
After all, the original 1970s films were often barely above self-parody and were ideologically suspect even at the time as far as many within the African-American community were concerned.
Reflecting this political aspect, many contemporary African-American film-makers have also had an uneasy relationship with the form, as epitomised by the debate between Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino over the latter’s appropriation of blaxploitation and the N-word in Jackie Brown.
And then there are the Wayans Brothers affectionate and intermittently effective parodies I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking your Juice in the Hood, along with Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas, with its intriguing juxtaposition of 70s heroes and 90s ghetto.
It is, in total, a challenging arena to seek to make a contribution to. Happily the team of director Scott Sanders and co-writer/star Michael Jai White, who had earlier collaborated on the under-rated Thick as Thieves – in which White plays a black drug dealer who aspires to a white country club lifestyle – prove more than up to this challenge.
The key to Black Dynamite’s success is that the film-makers know the difference between a good-bad movie and a bad-bad movie.
They beautifully bring out all the clichés and weaknesses of the classic blaxploitation film – dodgy camera work, continuity and process shots; bad dialogue and even worse delivery; sentimentality; Vietnam flashbacks; the on-going fight against the man and his evil plans; and improbably dressed, coiffured and named characters, including the likes of Cream Corn, Chocolate Giddy Up, and Tasty Freeze.
But they also know when to get serious, most notably in well-choreographed and performed martial arts and action scenes that owe more to Enter the Dragon’s Jim Kelly than Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite, along with a truly excellent KPM library and retro style funk soundtrack that channels the spirits of Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and company.
The key difference between White and Kelly is that he can actually act; that between him and Moore is that his character and schtick should appeal to just about everyone.
Indeed, the only people I can’t imagine being won over by Black Dynamite are white power types who wouldn’t dream of going to see a black super-cool, super-stud super-hero kicking ass anyways.
A joy from start to finish, Black Dynamite has the potential to do for Blaxploitation what Austin Powers did for the 1960s superspy film.