Black Dynamite Review

Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is a former CIA agent, Vietnam veteran, orphan, nunchuck enthusiast, and martial arts expert. His goal? To take out “the man.” It does not matter what “the man” has done. In fact, for much of Black Dynamite, you are not particularly sure who Dynamite is brawling against. He takes out pimps, drug pushers, ancient martial arts masters, and even helps the owner of Roscoe’s Chili and Doughnuts reinvent his food franchise.

Black Dynamite is the type of parody we were given back in the ‘80s to oddly make fun of those movies in the ‘70s. While the numerous blaxploitation films were beyond ridiculous (Black Belt Jones being a personal favorite), Black Dynamite is on a new level. Never thought you would see Michael Jai White battle with Richard Nixon in a nunchuck duel to the death? You will.

This film knows when to make mistakes. Edits don’t happen when they should, frames are missing, boom mics are visible, and stock footage is not only used, but repeated… or it is really impressive that they managed to push that car down a hill twice and it managed to bounce the exact same way.

Written by Jai White, Byron Minns, and director Scott Sanders, the dialogue here is nothing short of precision absurdity. How anyone could recite the story of the little Vietnamese boy as told here with a straight face is well beyond the average humans level of composure. The same goes for the conversation inside a diner, which involves astrology, giant snakes, Roman gods, and backwards words to discover who is responsible for an evil plot.

Even at 84-minutes (even less without the wonderfully done animated credits), Black Dynamite dies out somewhere near the halfway point, at least until the finale on Kung-Fu Island. While it is hard to move up after having a conversation about oiling the ball bearings on someone’s nunchucks, the film handles action better than anything else.

The fights, despite being obvious parodies, are oddly refreshing, lacking the annoying quick cuts modern movies tend to utilize. Plus, their humor is priceless, especially a montage where Dynamite picks up a car with a helicopter (using a magnet), and drops it off a hill. The karate brawl in Dynamite’s house is also a winner, showcasing his immense skills in warping around a room, smashing bricks for no reason, yet failing to hang up a phone properly.

Those are the little touches that fail to appear in the second chapter, robbing Black Dynamite of its opening energy. Replacing the action are some marginally funny bits, including a visit to a pimp meeting, with character Chocolate Giddy-Up (Cedric Yarbrough). Those are brief snickers more than laughs, but at least Dynamite leaves the viewer on a high note. Dynamite’s brawl with Fiendish Dr. Wu (Roger Yuan) is comedy gold.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Black Dynamite was shot in Super 16MM film, leading to many of the perceived “issues” with this AVC encode. To be fair, the encode itself leads to a few problems. Grain spikes, such as the car chase, are handled about as well as the codec could be expected to, but still loses to the noise battle. Ringing is severe in a few spots, particularly at the funeral, and at 26:00 during a conversation after a meeting.

The rest of the disc, between the orange and yellow-tinted color schemes and severe black crush, are all intentional stylized choices or the result of the chosen film stock. When colors do appear natural, there are signs of red push, although saturation can be pleasing. Flesh tones go wherever the color takes them.

Detail can be outstanding. In fact, the facial close-up at 10:24 may be one of the most well rendered shots of facial texture you’ll see. While clothing textures are usually lost to the ramped up black levels, faces are typically clean, exhibiting superb definition. The filmmakers resisted the urge to amp up damage to the source, keeping it surprisingly clean. While a few specks and lines do appear, they are undoubtedly intentional, and keep with the style.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Black Dynamite’s sound design is sporadically aggressive, letting this DTS-HD track work surprisingly hard in a few scenes. Gunfire can carry quite a punch, and spring up in the surrounds. Street level ambiance is cranked up, full of police sirens and random gunfire to sell the effect of the streets themselves.

The stereo channels are the most effective in this mix, capturing an incredible array of positional audio. The kung-fu training inside Dynamite’s house is great, with howls and cheap punching sound effects splitting the sides. The jungle assault on Kung-Fu Island is delivered with various animal calls, effectively setting the tone for a stock footage assault.

Bass can be thick, especially when a car explodes (twice), or when Dynamite crushes a guys head with a famous Bruce Lee maneuver. The glorious ‘70s parody soundtrack has a fine low-end to it, providing that extra funky kick it’s going for.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

A commentary from star Michael Jai White, director/co-writer Scott Sanders, and actor/co-writer Byron Minns begins the extras, followed by 17 deleted scenes that run over 25-minutes. Lighting the Fuse is a fine, honest making-of that runs 23-minutes. The ‘70s Back in Action focuses on personal reflections of the time period, and bringing the styles back for the film.

A Comic Con panel features the usual promotional chat, while Sony rounds the disc off with MovieIQ compatibility, typical BD-Live support, and trailers.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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