I should say this straight out: I thought Black Dynamite was a good movie. I don’t think it was the second best movie of the year for 2009 the way Dale does, or even the 2nd best comedy, but it was very good.
The probable disconnect between Dale and I is that Dale, undoubtedly, was very into the blaxploitation genre of the 70s. They just didn’t show those so much out here in the Pacific Northwest. They showed kung fu flicks a bit more (although, based on the movie knowledge of friends I have who grew up in New York City, not a whole lot of those either) but the blaxploitation flick was largely avoided by KCPQ and KSTW, those non-affiliated Seattle channels who survived by showing movies in the 70s and 80s (KCPQ since latched onto the FOX network as soon as it was born, and KSTW has linked up with the WB or whatever they call it now). Sadly, most of my blaxploitation knowledge is second hand by way of Jackie Brown or the original Shaft, which I went out and bought back in the mid-90s due to extreme awesome quality.
So a lot of the humor was, if not quite lost on me, didn’t resonate the way it might for someone steeped in the genre. Even if you’re in my position, though, it’s worth watching. There’s a soliloquy by Michael Jai White towards the beginning regarding his experiences in ‘Nam that is about as funny a scene as I’ve seen in any comedy this year. Since this is a black comedy, there are cameos and small parts for lots of black comics: Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, Buddy Lewis, and Darrel Heath all figure into this film in some way or other. And then there’s Michael Jai White, who looks like he’s been transplanted straight out of one of those 70s movies.
One of the things that really struck me about this movie is how much care was taken into making it. This is so heavily stylized, it’s almost a black Wes Anderson film. Every single item in every single scene is carefully placed, from pool cues to one conveniently placed box of eggs. And while director Scott Sanders (formerly a writer for comedies Roc and A Different World) eschewed Richard Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s celluloid-slashing techniques from Grindhouse, he mocks/celebrates the low budgets of these movies in other, arguably more subtle ways. There is a bit, also towards the beginning of the movie, where one of the heroes gets into a fight scene with a bad guy and accidentally actually hits him. This bit, as well as the bad guy’s indignant curse, comes and goes in a split second and unlike so many spoofs doesn’t sit there and wait for you to get the joke before moving on. You might even miss it the first time you see it. No matter – that just gives you a good excuse to go in and watch this bad boy again.
So why don’t I have it quite up there with the greats of 2009? That’s a good question, actually, and in the end my reasons have less to do with the quality of Black Dynamite and more to do with what the other movies of ’09 bring to the table. It’s great but not simply amazing like Moon or – please don’t shoot me – Avatar. It wasn’t quite as consistently funny as The Hangover (although it did pretty well, don’t get me wrong) and didn’t have the “wow” moments that Up had. I do think I’d put it in the same second-tier group as Away We Go, Up In The Air, and Funny People.