Is your internal clock out of whack after staying up well past midnight on New Year’s Eve? Wide awake at 11 p.m. and unsure of what to do? Consider heading over to the E Street Cinema to check out one of the midnight screenings of “Black Dynamite” on Friday and Saturday.
Indeed, those two screenings will be the only chance for the District’s denizens to check out this spoof/homage to the blaxploitation films of the early 1970s on the big screen in bold, saturated color.
“Black Dynamite” is the story of the eponymous character, played by Michael Jai White, and his quest for vengeance against the Man, who killed his brother for being an undercover cop trying to determine who is flooding the city’s orphanage with drugs. Once a member of the military and a CIA agent with a license to kill — a license reinstated by the agency for the purposes of this film — Black Dynamite now walks the street, taking out drug dealers who peddle smack to children and pimps who abuse their hos.
During the course of his quest, Black Dynamite comes to discover that his brother’s murder is even more insidious than he thought, going all the way to the top. Indeed, the climactic scene takes place in a certain “Honky House” located not too far from the E Street Cinema itself.
The plot is intentionally absurd, an over-the-top and convoluted mess that echoes the prejudices of the times. Needless to say, the actors are all suited up in era-specific attire: Black Dynamite sports open-collar shirts and leather jackets with ridiculously broad lapels — and a giant Afro, naturally.
Shot in an oversaturated fashion that calls to mind the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double feature “Grindhouse,” “Black Dynamite” feels like a picture that was shot in the early ‘70s. It opens with a commercial for Anaconda brand malt liquor, reminiscent of the fake trailers concocted for “Grindhouse,” which is a nice little touch that puts audiences in the right frame of mind: street justice, kung fu and beatdowns of the Man are sure to follow whenever a movie starts out with an advertisement for malt liquor.
Star Michael Jai White — best known from previous turns as the title character in “Spawn” and the street hood Gamble in “The Dark Knight” — is also a martial artist, and his skills are put to fine use in this picture. As Roger Ebert noted in his review of the film, Mr. White calls to mind blaxploitation icons like Fred Williamson: Big and buff and not hesitant to lay the smack-down, Mr. White spends much of the picture practicing roundhouse kicks and karate chops in a comically exaggerated manner.
“Black Dynamite” is full of hilarious cameos from black actors doing their best to ham it up for the camera. Mr. White is joined by Arsenio Hall, Tommy Davidson, John Salley and Brian McKnight. The names of the characters are almost as delightful as the actors’ performances: Black Dynamite is joined by Tasty Freeze, Cream Corn, Sweetmeat, Kotex, Honeybee, Chicago Wind … the list goes on and on.
In addition to starring, Mr. White is one of the co-writers, along with Byron Minns and director Scott Sanders. The trio has crafted a winning and loving homage to a genre that is typically treated with disdain and cast aside. If there was an Oscar for best jive talkin’, this trio would certainly take home the gold.