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The Must-See Comedy of 2009 — Black Dynamite

Black Dynamite

Black Dynamite Poster

Forget The Hangover and Bruno, the must-see comedy of 2009 is Black Dynamite. Spoof movies have copped a bad reputation in the past decade, and it is easy to see why. Personally, whenever I see the word `spoof’ used in a synopsis I have a traumatic flashback to Disaster Movie. Gone are the days of intelligent satire like Life of Brian, Airplane! or Fear of a Black Hat. Or so I thought.

After exploding at the Sundance and Edinburgh film festivals earlier this year, along comes Black Dynamite — a film with its tongue so firmly in cheek I thought it might burst out the other side. Homage to the best and worst blaxploitation movies of the 70s, you will be hard pressed to find a comedy as fresh and funny in cinemas this year.

A sub-genre of exploitation cinema, blaxploitation films were targeted at urban African American audiences and the storylines usually involved a black protagonist seeking justice from the neighbourhood pimps or drug dealers. Given their controversial nature and tendency to depict the violent-African American stereotype, the genre died out within a decade. However, blaxploitation films such as Shaft, Foxy Brown and Boss Nigger have become adored by cinephiles and are today considered kitsch classics.

It is at this audience Black Dynamite is targeted. Screenwriters Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White and Byron Minns have left no cliché of the genre unused in their construction of plot which is set in the height of blaxploitation cinema; the 70s. When `the man’ kills his only brother, pumps heroin into local orphanages and starts shrinking the male anatomy through malt liquor, there’s only one brother bad enough to unravel the conspiracy: Black Dynamite. Teaming up with characters such as Cream Corn, Tasty Freeze, Chocolate Giddy-up and Honeybee, his mission takes him all the way to the Whitehouse and a num-chuck wielding Richard Nixon. Kung fu, orgies and ass-whooping ensues.

With such a sensational storyline, it would have been easy for the movie to plough blindly into ridiculousness. However, to his credit director Scott Sanders takes on the material with such unflinching confidence and expertise, it is impossible not to take the comedy seriously. Pun intended. Sanders knows exactly what kind of film he wants the audience to see and he uses every trick in his director arsenal to achieve it. Complete with split screens, pan whips, zooms and slow motion, he utilises every technique from 70s film and television to make the experience feel authentic. Sanders is not just making a blaxploitation film set in the 70s, it is a film in the 70s. Accompanied by a soundtrack of funk and soul music, watching the film is like being transported back in time and I would not have been surprised if I had an afro and flairs by the end of the screening.

To hail this as the saviour of spoof movies would not be an understatement. There is a very Monty Ponty-moment when Black Dynamite and his followers are connecting a malt liquor brand to the conspiracy. Albeit in a very different setting, the marks of intelligent satire are evident. Avoiding the cheap laughs, the jokes are clever and fast delivered without the hint of a smile from the ensemble cast. I dare you not to be reduced to giggles when Black Dynamite utters the line “First lady, I’m sorry I pimp slapped you into that China cabinet... I use excessive force.”

In fact, the film has so many quotable lines you can see a legion of males trading impressions whilst gathered around the water cooler at work. Robert Downey Jr’s Sergeant Lincoln Osiris via Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder looks like a private schoolboy compared to Michael Jai White’s superb and often shirtless portrayal of Black Dynamite. White is a standout and one of the films biggest assets. Also one of the co-writers, his talent exceeds beyond the screenplay. With a knockout body and incredible martial arts skills, you actually believe he can take on every occupant of Kung-Fu Island as his character does midway through the film. White is pitch-perfect in the role of Black Dynamite and his comedic timing is reminiscent of Steve Martin’s early work. Treading the fine line between parody and pandemonium, he has created an iconic comedy character a la Derek Zoolander or Ron Burgundy.

Avoiding the mistake so many comedies make these days, Black Dynamite does not overstay its welcome with a brief 90 minute running time. Watching the brilliantly animated closing credits, I felt a pang of sadness that this film is unlikely to get the audience numbers it deserves given its sexy, camp and violent content. When Black Dynamite opens in limited release across Australia in September, it will be restricted to playing at cult and avant-garde cinemas ballsy enough to screen it. I was lucky enough to see the film a few months early courtesy of some work I'm doing with the Brisbane International Film Festival so the rest of you MUST keep your eyes peeled for session times in coming months. Alternatively, anyone near Brisvegas can catch it playing in August at the Regent for BIFF.

Admittedly this blaxploitation satire isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. As a tongue-in-cheek take on the genre, Black Dynamite is a hilarious ride for those who like their movies like their coffee: black.

p.s. Ah yes, just reading the above post title should induce a jig of some sort accompanied with air-whip movements as the infectious beat of the Devo song creeps into your brain. And stays there. For the next 48 hours.However, Whip It is not only a kitsch musical classic, it's also the title of Drew Barrymore's directorial debut starring Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis, Eve, Kristen Wiig and Barrymore herself. Based on Shauna Cross's novel Derby Girl, it tells the tale of an indie-rock loving misfit (Page) who finds a way of dealing with her small-town misery after she discovers a roller derby league. The trailer has just been put up on the net and it looks seriously wicked. Seriously. Hot damn! Strap on my skates and throw me some knee pads because if the trailer is anything to go by Whip It! looks like an excellent ride. I have a lot of faith in Drew Barrymore and she has proved her competence behind the camera countless times as executive producer on flicks such as Never Been Kissed, Donnie Darko, Charlie's Angles, Duplex and a bunch of others. In a glance, it looks like it has plenty of that Juno-quirk but presented in a lighter, more accessible package.
Whip It! Has a October 9 release date in the US which will no doubt be waaaay later for us Aussies, if not early 2015.

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The Must-See Comedy of 2009 — Black Dynamite {Whip It}