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Sundance Review: ‘Black Dynamite’ is a Funkin’ Riot

By  · Published on January 19th, 2009

If there is one thing I wish I had learned last year at Sundance, it is that midnight shows are a lot of fun. Last year I made the mistake of avoiding the midnight public screenings, choosing instead to sit in the stuffy press screenings. It just isn’t the same. And this year I’ve learned that the Park City at Midnight selection is more than just a selection of edgy or bloody affairs. It is, at least this year, a series of fantastic film experiences — the types of movies that worked best when served with an energetic, excited crowd. The latest of these selections, and perhaps the most ambitious, is director Scott Sanders’ throwback comedy Black Dynamite.

Sexy, campy and downright hilarious, Black Dynamite comes charging in with a fury of action, sex and badass kung-fu. It follows the story of Black Dynamite, played perfectly by Michael Jai White, a legendary hero who finds that his brother has been killed by “the man,” the orphanage that helped raise him is flooded by heroin and the streets of his beloved city are being targeted with a secret weapon disguised as Anaconda Malt Liquor. Fed up and pissed off, Black Dynamite begins recruiting brothers and putting out the warning to all the jive turkeys who’ve been doing wrong — he’s one bad motherf*cker and he’s coming to pimp-slap them all.

Expertly towing the line between satire and spoof, Scott Sanders’ film utilizes a wonderfully crafted retro aesthetic and a massive cast to transport us back to the campy world of 70s blaxploitation. The pitch is perfect and the leading man is the quintessential badass, causing the movie to attain a palpable momentum. Not affraid to bang on the fourth wall with boom mics appearing in shots and camera crews visible in windows — clear callbacks to classics such as Dolamite — Sanders’ film shamelessly kicks and punches the hell out of its audience, leaving only the stiffest and humorless viewer without loads of laughs. Its real brilliance though, is in the details. The art direction and costume design are spot on, authentically recreating a world filled with flocked wallpaper, faux fur and big, ridiculous bling. The tone is authentic as well, never shying away from the opportunity to allow its star to unleash his huge screen presence or to allow its fantastic cast of characters to lay down quotable bits of campy dialog.

The only problem we run into is that it starts with such ferocity that it is near-impossible to maintain. Even though it runs at 90 minutes, it does begin to crawl toward the end. But that doesn’t stop it from being a wildly entertaining experience for anyone who loves a great crowd movie. Filled with badass action and intentionally awful dialog, Black Dynamite is an uncompromising love letter to a beloved time and genre. It is funky, fresh and filled to the brim with memorable performances — the kind of movie best served with a 40 oz. If you are a lover of great “experience” films, the ones best served with a big crowd and a 40 oz., then you will dig Black Dynamite. If not, well then there is no help for you, ya jive turkey.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)