It's a necessary work hazard that, barring film festivals, movie critics don't have the pleasure of screening most films at a raucous midnight showing, or with friends after a marathon bong session on the couch. (And believe me, I've tried my best.) I don't point this out in a plea for sympathy toward what must be the least physically intensive career choice in the world, but to illuminate the fact that we're usually just getting out of bed for an a.m. trip to the theater or holed up in our offices (if we're lucky enough to have one) watching a DVD copy on a 13-inch computer screen.
Remember that when I tell you that Black Dynamite, a loving sendup of the blaxploitation flicks of the '70s, is only fitfully amusing. Like The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Dynamite's appeal lies specifically in the realm of festival world, where cinema fans of all stripes can pack it in and bathe in the glow of the film's campy nostalgia. Beyond those moments, however, its appeal melts sadly away.
Premiering (at midnight, natch) more than a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews and a handsome distribution deal, Black Dynamite never saw a wide release, limiting itself to the fest circuit and art houses. The material isn't the problem, nor the delivery, but the very nature of its meticulous spoof gimmick.
Co-written by and starring Michael Jai White as the titular character, the film follows Black Dynamite, a karate-kicking, nunchucks-smashing, multiple-lady-slaying, Jheri-curl-dripping man of adventure seeking to cleanse the streets of drugs and avenge the death of his brother. Shot with intentionally low production values, which accounts for 90 percent of the film's best gags ' Dynamite trying to signal the camera with his eyes that a boom mic has dropped into frame is a flash of straight-man genius ' the film expertly capitalizes on White's well-documented lack of range, to put it kindly. White's character strains to 'actâ?� in this film he's living out, and that seems to have freed White himself to (how can I put this) act well. It's as if there's a cloud of meta-irony that floats like a bubble over Hollywood, but you can't reach it until you've finally suffocated in the paper bag you couldn't act your way out of. (I'm thinking also of Jean-Claude Van Damme in 2008's JCVD.)
The danger of making a movie that knows it's so-bad-it's-good, however, is the tendency to wear out your welcome, and Dynamite does that swiftly. There's still enough there for cinephiles to appreciate, but mild appreciation only goes so far without the company of others.