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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Parody in film is such a lost art nowadays. Anytime anyone thinks of a parody film, I bet the first thing to come to mind is a “Something” Movie. While in the strictest sense, those films are parodies, they are incredibly broad and the parody nature is limited to one-shot gags (Look! It is Indiana Jones…but he’s a midget!). It gives the concept of parody a bad name. Then we have the brilliant 2009 film Black Dynamite; a movie that completely sends up blaxploitation films of the 1970s.
This is a true parody. It is incredibly clever as nearly every detail in the film is expertly crafted in order to achieve that low-budget 70s film look. Clearly, the filmmakers had affection for that genre. However, it does not stop there. The film cleverly throws in some intentional goofs such as boom mics occasionally dropping in, blatantly obvious stuntmen appearing, and poor green screen effects. The movie even goes the extra mile and was filmed in Super 16 to gain a high contrast and saturated look. Honestly, if someone sat down to watch Black Dynamite and did not know it was made in the late 2000s, he or she would automatically think it was from the ‘70s.
Many films today try to capture the look and/or feel of an earlier style of film. Directors like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are notorious for doing that. Most of the time, movies like that do not work for me largely because they look too modern to pass for an early style. Also, I find those films trying to be a bit too clever for their own good. In works in Black Dynamite’s case because attention is not called to the fact that it is a ‘70s movie being made today. It simply is. By not calling attention to it, the film is able to cement its parody nature.
The filmmakers threw everything they could think of in this movie. Nothing was held back and the film is all the more better for it. Black Dynamite’s motivation in the story switches about every twenty minutes to a new cliché. The style of the film continually shifts from being a street-wise detective story to a kung-fu flick to a spy adventure. And then back again. Each deliberate unnecessary change the movie makes (and the intentional overabundance of clichés) just causes the film’s insanity to ramp up at a healthy pace. The film’s climax is so crazy that, at face value, it should have been the ending to some other movie. Yet, everything evolves so naturally, viewers can easily accept it.
Part of what makes all of this work (beyond the period film making details) is that the actors are completely serious in their roles. There is not winking at the camera letting the audience know the cast is in on the joke. None of that. It is played straight. This causes the craziness to become even crazier. I suppose it is difficult to explain, so I will provide the deduction diner scene as an example:
The plot of the movie is a bit all over the place. It has something to with Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) attempting to solve the murder of his brother while stopping a new drug that is hitting the streets. Honestly, in a movie like this, the plot is not really important here. It is everything that surrounds the plot that makes the movie work.
Recently, a Black Dynamite animated series started airing on Adult Swim. The show is good as it has the same sensibility as the movie, but it really lacks the movie’s punch. The live-action visual asthenic adds so much to the viewing experience that I can easily put this movie on at anytime and appreciate it on that level.