Have you ever watched a comic roasting? If you haven’t it’s a bunch of comedians gathering around to make fun of a fellow comedian in front of their peers. Sometimes it isn’t a fellow comedian and is just a celebrity that most of them probably don’t know very well, but their appearance or reputation precede them and make for easily exploitable comedy. I’m not as big a fan of the latter as the creativity seems rather limited and everyone mostly goes for the obvious joke, because they don’t know the person well enough to find the funny of anything that’s not just on the surface. More importantly, I also never get the impression that anyone actually likes the celebrity they’re making fun of and it turns the event into something that sounds malicious instead of what a roasting should be. It’s supposed to be a display of acknowledged accomplishment and admiration expressed the best way that comedians can express it. Large companies give out watches, comedians make fun of you and the more they like you the more funny and meaningful the joke tends to be. It’s the one time in life that’s supposed to be good to be made fun of.
Film parody, when it works best, works similarly to a really good comic roasting. The best parodies tend to be films expressing their love and admiration towards another film (or type of film) by poking fun at them. Mel Brooks did this and did it probably better than anyone in history. Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles remain not only two of the funniest films ever made, but two of the greatest love letters to other films.
The key word is love. Mel Brooks got this, and Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez amongst other modern filmmakers do as well. When you love something it’s not only enjoyable to make fun it can also be more satisfying when you do more so than if you hate it (hate is better for satire, a whole different kind of comic talent). The intent should be to show affection, not to malign. You’re allowed to make fun of your Mom, because you love her and she’ll laugh, but strangers should shut their mouths.
Scott Sanders, Byron Minns and Michael Jai White not only get this they get it in spades (no insensitive racial slander intended, unless you’d understand that I meant it lovingly if I did intend it) and it’s 100% evident in their collaborative effort to show their love to the films that they love – the low-budget, negro-heroed, bare-breast flailing, mountain-afroed, boom-mike showing, staring at the camera(ing), white man getting his justicing blaxploitation features of the 1970s. Their love letter is folded and delivered in the badass that is Black Dynamite.
During the 1970’s blaxploitation pictures were typically very small films often with plot aspirations way larger than their budget could accommodate, but they worked for the audiences that really wanted to see them because they worked like cinema therapy. Like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds they righted wrongs via fantasy. Black people were oppressed by the white man and the black community needed vigilant heroes. They needed James Bond’s and Dirty Harry’s of their own. It didn’t matter if the picture wasn’t well-made, at all, as long as it invoked a sense of cheer and in a time when black super-heroes and crime fighters were scarce the people just needed something to reprieve their desire to want to slap a white man in the face and watch him cry. For 90 minutes they could live vicariously through Fred Williamson, Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier, or Isaac Hayes and watch them slap white people around – and look sexy doing it.
Watching Black Dynamite you not only get the sense that Sanders, Jai White, and Minns understood the appeal of blaxploitation films – they loved them despite their shortcomings. It’s noticeable because there wasn’t going to be any massive amount of money made for any of them, and Michael Jai White has never shown this much personality nor apparent commitment on screen, ever. I doubt anyone would ever guess that the guy could turn in a downright hilarious performance, but he does.
You can usually tell when someone is doing something for love or money. In the case of guys like Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, and pretty much every other atrocity you can blame on them too – because I do) it’s evident they don’t have any affection for what they make fun of. They just love to bank on making icons and references of pop-culture appear gay, have diarrhea, or drop something on their head. They’re the guys in high school that hand out photo-shopped pictures of the quarterback in drag, stick a whoopy-cushion underneath the head cheerleader’s chair, or find some other high school popularity cliché and start a rumor that they have crabs; but they’d only do it if you paid them to do it. They probably don’t particularly love disaster movies, epics, nor rom-coms. They love that you love them so that someone will give them money to make those movies fart.
On the other side of the parody spectrum, Black Dynamite contains some of the sharpest sense of source knowledge and unadulterated love for the films it’s representing of any great parody or homage picture made this past decade. It’s just as entertaining as some of the genre’s best while simultaneously playing on their lack of filmmaking proficiency, which helps the gags feel more organic to the source of influence and not jabs to the rib at the expense of the films it’s parodying.
In 2000 John Singleton revisited what is probably the most recognizable of all the blaxploitation films, Shaft. It took the cult-classic of the early 1970’s, gave it a modern-day makeover, and it quite honestly turned out fairly well. However, Black Dynamite looked back at that funky, jive girl from high school and said, “Baby, you’re perfect just the way you are and I wouldn’t change anything even if you wanted to.” I know women love makeovers, but really, which of these is more romantic?
Black Dynamite is a love letter to a girl in school that few people remember and fewer remember as fondly as they look back at her photo in the yearbook. Sanders, Jai White, Minns and every other member of the cast look at that same photo and see a girl that they can’t help but be attracted to, want to make babies with, and want to share a laugh at their sense of style.
Black Dynamite is on Blu-ray and DVD today. For more, head over to Amazon.com