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SPOILER ZONE: BLACK DYNAMITE

08 September 2010

There’s a new rubric on Captain August (it’s actually just an official title for what I’ve been doing all along): Spoiler Zone. This is when I’ll be talking about movies and games and discussing their intricacies. Expect to never hear of this title again (though the content will remain the same, ofc).

This week I saw Black Dynamite, a movie whose trailer had been whetting my appetite for a while. The way it seemed to be set up was as an honest, hilarious homage to blaxploitation films from the 70s (Black Dynamite: he drives a $5000 car and wears a $100 suit!). The movie did not disappoint in this. From the very start it presents a coherent blaxploitation world with outrageous pimps and ho’s, gratuitous sex and violence and bad acting. I can’t stress enough how well the movie starts out. The plot is a serviceable jumble of clichés: killed brothers, dope on the street, and CIA double crossings. The cast is a who’s-who of the black acting community (especially Jones from Reno 9-11 as a smaltzy, dumb pimp brought a smile to the face).

There’s a self-awareness in what the movie tries to do that makes it so smart. For the first half of the movie it chooses wisely to let the comedy spring from careful pastiche and spot-on characterization. It seems at this point like the makers knew exactly what they were going for.

Halfway through Black Dynamite changes pace. Actual jokes start being introduced. The characters become vehicles for quick laughs. The story (its believability in any case) gets thrown out the window. It’s very subtle, but suddenly you realize the movie did a 180 on you. The reason the shift is so inconspicuous is that it’s actually funny. When Black Dynamite enters Kung Fu island and pokes out the eyes of a henchmen (,,You jiiiiiiiiive motherfucker!”), it’s funny. The climax at the end is even more hysterical, which I won’t even spoil in the Spoiler Zone. But upon looking back, it’s not at all what I wanted from the movie. Black Dynamite works well as a subtle homage, not even necessarily as a spoof, but a loving pastiche. It’s funny to see the clichés work for the characters and plot. The cheese of blaxploitation was more than enough to carry this movie all the way to its conclusion.

It seems the makers didn’t have the courage to do that, though. Perhaps they feared it wouldn’t hold up all the way through. So around the halfway point, they sacrifice their carefully built-up premise -a unique and promising project- and use it as fertile ground for a hilarious, but dime-a-dozen slapstick comedy. A Steve Oedekerk-esque. What a shame! How dreadful to see something so unique turn into something so generic!

Black Dynamite is worth seeing. As a comedy, I will repeat, it works and is often hilarious. The problem I described above might not be a problem for anyone else. But for me, it’s simply more painful to see something of promise fail in impossibly subtle ways, than to see a trainwreck of a movie that never stood a chance. Black Dynamite could have been a thousand times more special than it is now, if it had only believed in its own strength: that’s the real tragedy.

[EDIT]: Again, hilariously, I have neglected to post a new August on Saturday. Where am I with my head? I'm entering another hectic weekend away from home, so, my apologies and see you next Wednesday!


Roderick