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DVD Review: Black Dynamite

Break out the fur hats and jumpsuits: Scott Sanders’ Black Dynamite revives 1970s-style blaxploitation film in all its over-the-top, ass-kicking glory complete with big hair, bare breasts and kung fu. Michael Jai White stars as Dynamite’s titular local hero, a smooth-talking, gun-toting vigilante on a mission to fight “the man” for murdering his brother, flooding the streets with drugs and (perhaps more egregiously) selling less-than-pure malt liquor.

But it’s not just the costumes and stunts that make Black Dynamite such a gem. The film, which arrives on DVD today, is raucously funny because of a fabulous script that’s meant to be terrible with a uniformly great cast that’s capable of pulling it off. So precise is Dynamite’s awfulness that most of the jokes drop in the extra five beats where a cut should be. As Sanders explains in one of the DVD’s extra segments, other elements of the film’s humor was designed to be in the editing — or rather, purposeful lack thereof.

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Yet in places, some of Dynamite’s drawn-out scenes and fabulously awkward transitions could have simply been dropped altogether. While the film is both send-up and homage to the genre, the DVD’s extras also underscore a sense of competing inclinations therein. As editor and musical director Adrian “AJ” Younge comments in “Lighting the Fuse,” he and his colleagues realized during test screenings that audiences mostly wanted laughs over an extensive backstory. While parts of the film drag, the many extended and deleted scenes (which include more blood, boobs and bad guys) reveal just how much longer and elaborate Black Dynamite could have been.

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The film’s extra segments also reveal some of the logistical and production details that make the film feel more tangible. In fact, it’s quickly apparent through interviews with hose involved with the film — and particularly through the film commentary with White, Sanders and co-writer/co-star Byron Minns (Bullhorn) — that Black Dynamite was  a low-budget, tight-knit affair. For those familiar with Los Angeles, for example, it’s fun to discover how and where locations were selected. Most of the film’s exteriors were shot around Crenshaw Blvd., while most of the home interiors were shot as-is in period-style houses in Ladera Heights.

Even without all the DVD trimmings, Black Dynamite offers a wealth of hilarious details, from the inclusion of Arsenio Hall in the “pimp council” to the ridiculous original songs, which narrate the action as scenes unfold. While the film is certainly not classic awards-season material, Younge at least deserves significant accolades for his brilliant compositions. As Sanders says, the music is like a character unto itself — but it’s better than that, serving as both the perfect finishing touch and the integral glue which elevates Dynamite above its campy anchors.

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While just about everything in the film is intentionally overdone, it also intentionally walks a line between satire and spoof. An untrained eye might absorb Black Dynamite on purely a comedic level — which is perfectly appropriate. A closer look at the DVD’s many extras, however, reveal that it’s also a lovingly constructed and grand tribute to the original genre, blending a modern-day sensibility with ‘70s-era righteousness.

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