'Black Dynamite'

"Black Dynamite" tips its frilly pimp hat to early '70s African-American action pics.

Less screwball farce than affectionate, Tarantino-esque grindhouse homage, Scott Sanders’ raucous “Black Dynamite” tips its frilly pimp hat to early ’70s African-American action pics. A vastly entertaining film, with a playfully suave and acrobatic perf by co-writer Michael Jai White in the title role, this film will delight both discriminating fans of the blaxploitation tradition and ordinary lovers of goofy, in-ya-face thrills. The rowdy midnight screening at Sundance drew a nearly $2 million sale to Sony by dawn; with proper positioning, the pic, spanning the ghetto to Tricky Dick’s White House, could grow from word-of-mouth cult item to mainstream bank-breaker.

Helmer and co-writer Sanders, whose “Thick as Thieves” graced Sundance a decade ago, has assembled a topnotch crew with whom to flaunt the low-budget eye candy of “Dolemite,” “Superfly” and, particularly, “The Mack”: flared threads, tall ‘fros, and, er, ‘hos. The director’s kung-fu kicks and .44 Magnum blasts are as stupendously timed as his slang-slinging one-liners — which is to say that, unlike some blaxploitation remakes, “Dynamite” never forgets to deliver the goods.

Plot, such as it is, has muscular, mustachioed ladykiller Black Dynamite avenging his brother Jimmy’s murder at the hands of drug-dealing cats in cahoots with the Man — aka O’Leary (Kevin Chapman).

Teamed with the likes of flamboyant queen Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson) and tough-as-nails Bullhorn (co-writer Byron Minns), suave baadasssss Dynamite follows the Man’s menace from a doped-up orphanage to a warehouse stocked with absurdly poisonous malt liquor, eventually getting it on with nectar-sweet activist Gloria (Salli Richardson-Whitfield).

Hilarious climax finds Dynamite going mano-a-mano with a nunchuks-swinging Richard Nixon.Sanders and his key collaborators — veteran costume designer Ruth E. Carter, production designer Denise Pizzini, d.p. Shawn Maurer and editor Adrian Younge (who also wrote the wah-wah-fueled music) — make enjoyably funky use of split screens, shaky zooms, and drooping boom mics. (Sanders stops short of digitally manufacturing scratches on the print a la “Grindhouse,” which is maybe just as well.)

Pic’s many fight scenes, owing to “Enter the Dragon” more than anything in the blaxploitation oeuvre, are ingeniously choreographed by the Yuan brothers, Ron and Roger.

Distinctly not circa ’73 are soundwoman Sara Glaser’s Dolby thwacks and cap-peelings — but, like the film, they’re loud and fun.

Black Dynamite

Production

A Sony Worldwide release of an Ars Nova production, in association with Harbor Entertainment. Produced by Jon Steingart, Jenny Wiener Steingart. Executive producers, Deanna Berkeley, James Berkeley. Co-producers, Jillian Apfelbaum, Alison Engel, Steven Funk, Seth Harrison, Matt Richards, Jenna Segal, Paul Segal. Directed by Scott Sanders. Screenplay, Sanders, Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, from a story by White, Minns.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16-to-35mm), Shawn Maurer; editor, Adrian Younge; music, Younge; music supervisor, David Hollander; production designer, Denise Pizzini; set decorator, Antonia Nunez; costume designer, Ruth E. Carter; sound (Dolby Digital), Sara Glaser; supervising sound editor, Sean Gray; visual effects supervisor, Brian Adler; animation, Six Point Harness; fight coordinators, Ron Yuan, Roger Yuan; stunt coordinator, Ron Yuan; associate producer, Intesar Haider; assistant director, Chad Rosen; casting, Rick Montgomery. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 18, 2009. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Black Dynamite - Michael Jai White Honey Bee - Kym Whitley Cream Corn - Tommy Davidson O'Leary - Kevin Chapman Bullhorn - Byron Minns Gloria - Salli Richardson-Whitfield Chocolate Giddy Up - Cedric Yarbrough Chicago Wind - Mykelti Williamson Sweet Meat - Brian McKnight Back Hand Jack - Bokeem Woodbine Tasty Freeze - Arsenio Hall Kotex - John Salley Richard M. Nixon - James McManus Patricia Nixon - Nicole Sullivan

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more