The first time I checked my watch during 'Black Dynamite' was at exactly the 30 minute mark. This, to me, is emblematic of the film's problem as a whole: when it's "on," it's smart, snappy, knowing, and laugh-out-loud hilarious, but really, it should have just been a short film.
The basic premise of 'Black Dynamite' is to combine every major Blaxploitation movie ('Dolemite,' 'Shaft,' 'Sweet Sweetback's Bad Assssss Song' etc.) into one knowing package. Michael Jai White plays Black Dynamite, a black private eye looking to avenge the death of his brother. Along the way, he meets some colorful characters (including Tommy Davidson's street hustler Cream Corn) and uncovers a conspiracy that involves, among other things, bodies of slain Vietnam soldiers and a malt liquor that makes black men's penises shrink.
There's plenty of karate action, sexy broads, car chases, and pimps. 'Black Dynamite' is kind of to 1970's Blaxpoitation movies what 'Austin Powers' was to 1960's spy movies – a knowing combination of loving homage and gentle spoof. It's just that, through the 'Austin Powers' time travel conceit, the movie looked and felt like it was made in the here and now, while 'Black Dynamite' is going for a much more genuine, 'found footage' feel.
Director Scott Sanders staged everything to look like it was made in the 1970's, and even copied the problematic production of those movies in 'Black Dynamite,' like the time a microphone dips into frame or when Black Dynamite can't read his cue cards correctly. This may sound too over the top, but it's really not. In fact, you get so sucked into the action story of 'Black Dynamite' (before it goes off the deep end) that the goofy embellishments are more endearing than distracting.
But a little of this goes a long way. Even though Michael Jai White is superb in the title role (really, who knew he was this good?), the movie is a bit one-note. There were times that I thought, had the Weinsteins' 'Grindhouse' series actually taken off as hoped, that this would have been an ideal candidate for a future 'Grindhouse' double feature. But other times, the movie felt redundant and sagged to the point that I thought it'd never regain its mojo (it does, towards the end).
At some point on the special features they say this was originally just a short film, which was inspired by Michael Jai White listening to a James Brown song (seriously). We never get to see the short film in the special features, sadly, but it makes perfect sense. The movie's dogged attention to detail and period (and cinematic) accuracy would probably have ensured that the short film be one of the all-time greats. As it stands, it's a movie with a lot of promise that goes on for too long and occasionally falters.
Is 'Black Dynamite' super fun, full of outstanding period detail and fine, full bodied performances? Yes. Does it drag on for a little too long? Yes. Would it have been the greatest short film of all time? Probably. But if you're watching 'Black Dynamite' with a bunch of your buddies (and they too know the long and storied history of urban black cinema), then this could be a riotously good time on the couch. While it's far from dynamite, it's still a whole lot of fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB Blu-ray disc does auto-play, followed by a few crummy trailers for things like 'Boondock Saints II' and another 'Universal Soldier' retread. It is Region "A" locked and BD-Live ready. Sucka.
'Black Dynamite's MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio) does a great job of preserving the film's distinctive '70's look.
To explain: the film was shot on Super 16 mm Color Reversal Kodak stock, which means that if someone complains about black "crush" in a review, then they're being stupid. That is one of the qualities the filmmakers were going for (this is explained on one of the special features too). They were going for a high contrast, super-saturated look. And on this transfer it looks dyno-mite.
Additionally, the film is inter-cut with footage from old movies and occasional file footage, so those sequences will look even grainier. There is heavy grain throughout the movie, which adds to its period-specific feel, but things don't get overwhelming or cartoonish like in the 'Grindhouse' movies.
Elsewhere, the transfer is pretty eye popping, particularly in its rendering of the costumes' day-glo color scheme and in some finer detail in props and locations. The blacks are obviously quite impressive, too. Even though it's meant to look sort of crummy, this transfer delivers, big time.
Just as good as the transfer, though, is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
The film's score was created using analogue '70's technology and it sounds absolutely amazing here. It booms. Dialogue is crisp, clear and well prioritized throughout, sound effects really pop, with action scenes taking on additional support from the back speakers. All sorts of craziness erupts in 'Black Dynamite' between gun fights, fist fights, and karate action, and it all sounds super fly here.
Sometimes there are occasional (and intentional) "pops" in the audio, but otherwise it's decidedly glitch-and-bug free. Overall this is a really wonderful mix.
While there's only one audio option, there are subtitles in English, English SDH, and French.
Sony brings 'Black Dynamite' to Blu-ray with a small trove of special features that are neither out of sight nor jive turkey.
I liked 'Black Dynamite' a lot, but didn't love it. If you're looking for a fun night in and enjoyed things like 'Grindhouse,' then you'll probably have fun here. It's definitely worth a rental for those who haven't seen it yet, and it's excellent A/V and nice collection of extras will keep you groovin'. If you've already seen (and love the movie), definitely pick it up. If not, you can be counted amongst the jive turkeys.