Another blaxploitation parody/homage might seem a little redundant after I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Undercover Brother, but the clever new spoof Black Dynamite justifies its existence with amazing cultural specificity and uncanny attention to detail. Working from a script he co-wrote with star Michael Jai White, director Scott Sanders has created a genre pastiche every bit as loving and meticulous as Far From Heaven or The Good German, though this time it’s in service to a film boom defined by wooden dialogue, terrible acting by models and ex-athletes, and filmmaking that can charitably be called charmingly homemade, or not so generously derided as incompetent.
In a potentially star-making performance, accomplished martial artist White stars as the titular badass, an ex-CIA operative who now whiles away his days destroying sparring partners with his devastating moves, making sweet love to an overflowing harem, and generally kicking ass. But when mysterious forces kill his brother, White roars back into action, battling evildoers on an epic quest that takes him from the mean streets of L.A. to Kung Fu Island to expose a conspiracy whose tentacles reach the highest levels of American power.
Sanders and White aren’t taking satirical aim at displays of virtuoso style like Shaft and Superfly, so much as they’re mocking the second- and third-generation knock-offs they inspired, like Candy Tangerine Man and the exquisitely unselfconscious oeuvre of Rudy Ray Moore, whose outsized presence pervades the film’s affectionate send-up of ’70s exploitation cinema. Sanders delights in the amateurishness of blaxploitation, from clunky exposition to shootouts that violate all rules of continuity and perspective to a visible boom mic, which spends so much time onscreen that it practically deserves its own credit. White is a deadpan delight as the hero, striking just the right balance of gruff, glowering stoicism and flamboyant badassery. Black Dynamite sometimes feels like an all-time classic short film stretched to feature length, but it’s blissfully short, and it peaks at the end with a groovy cartoon during the closing credits. So the prospect/inevitability of a sequel in which White goes to Africa, pursues a big score, or goes T.N.T. inspires giddy anticipation rather than dread.