Black Dynamite (Director: Scott Sanders): I don’t think the programmers of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival could have picked a more perfect film for their Opening Night gala. A nearly-sold-out Bloor Cinema was rocking with laughter from practically the first frame of Scott Sanders and star/writer Michael Jai White’s affectionate spoof of 70s blaxploitation movies.
The first thing I have to say is that Michael Jai White was a revelation. At 41 years of age and a well-muscled 240 pounds, he seems almost incapable of the flying martial arts kicks he regularly delivers to the dope dealers and pimps who populate the story. But not only can he whoop ass. His comic timing is perfect as well, which isn’t that surprising when you consider that he’s the writer of the film. Director Sanders revealed in the post-screening Q&A that he and White had been working on the idea behind the film for many years, and they put together a cheap trailer using clips from old films mixed with their own dialogue. The trailer was enough to get the film funded, even though they spent a significant amount of the budget on licensing old footage from 70s shows like Charlie’s Angels and The Rookies.
The cruddy 70s look is essential to maintaining the “grindhouse” feel of the many cheaply-made films Black Dynamite is mocking. Sanders even goes so far as to include “mistakes” like boom mikes intruding into the frame (an homage to Dolemite, he says) and hilarious continuity errors like a character’s tears disappearing and reappearing between scenes. The audience lapped it up, even when the plot’s ludicrous twists and turns brought Black Dynamite face to face with President Nixon, who seemed pretty handy with a set of nunchuks.
A film like this could easily have been fun but forgettable. Gunplay, martial arts, and the spot-on kitschy art direction keep our eyes amused, but for me the real creativity was on display in the writing. The many memorable one-liners and hilarious song lyrics give this tremendous repeat viewing potential. Within the first ten minutes, I was already eager to bring my friends to see Black Dynamite.
Here is the Q&A with director Scott Sanders from after the screening: