Black Lightning (2009) dir. Scott Sanders
Starring: Michael Jai White
In the tradition of “Grindhouse” Scott Sanders delivers his own timecapsule of 1970’s Blaxsploitation. Action and self-reflexive camp provide us of absurd post-modern instant classic.
For those unfamiliar with ‘Blaxsploitation’, it refers to a decade of low budget action films made for African-American audiences. From Shaft to Superfly to Black Caesar, the films featured the same plot, a tough-talking urban private detective or undercover cop solving crimes involving pimps, drugs or other inner city vices. Watching the films today the low budget aesthetic provides as much unintentional humour as the thrills they were intended for.
Michael Jai White plays Black Dynamite a former government agent who now protects his urban community from crime. When his beloved younger brother dies under suspicious circumstances, Dynamite goes on investigation and rampage of revenge from the inner city all the way to… well, I can’t spoil anything yet, but it’s an over-the-top fun action/comedy extravaganza.
Every minute detail of these films are recreated to replicate the 70’s blaxsploitation experience – gratuitous nudity (Dynamite is first seen in bed with three nude gals, (one black, one white, one asian), poorly written dialogue delivered with utmost seriousness, poor production qualities, including visible boom mics and bad lighting, classic 70’s art direction including atrocious wallpaper and stucco ceilings, split screens and of course a funktastic bouncing soundtrack.
At 90mins it actually feels too long. Inevitably the camp start to lose some gas. It would be a stronger film if it were 10 mins shorter.
It's minor snag, because at Sundance “Black Dynamite” is one of the great success stories (Sony Picture Classics picked up the film for a rare seven figure advance). Most of the credit should go to its star, Michael Jai White who also co-wrote and co-produced this passion project. White holds the picture with great confidence, his kung-fu is bad-ass and he shows great comic timing.
I think any fan of genre action cinema has been disappointed with the career of Michael Jai White. Its been ten years since “Spawn” and the talents of the star have been grossly under-realized. From its Sundance reception and the revitalization of White’s career “Black Dynamite” will certainly please audiences in its eventual release. You dig?