A second review requested by Andrew Milne, with thanks for contributing twice to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser.

It is, for me, an article of faith: the key to making a great parody is, above all things, love. One does not effectively parody even the lowliest form through mockery: it takes an extensive knowledge of the thing to be parodied, in all its tiniest details. That knowledge cannot come from a place of contempt or superiority; it can only come from love.* The makers of Black Dynamite, it is clear, love blaxploitation films very, very much.

Alongside Hot Fuzz, it's maybe the best parody of the 2000s, and for much the same reason: at times it's such a perfect version of the thing it pokes fun at that you only really have the contextual assurance that what you're watching is a comedy for it to be clear that what's happening are jokes. But even a statement as hyperbolic as "the best parody of the 2000s" doesn't go far enough in describing how freakishly creative Black Dynamite is. For years, I'd deliberately avoided the movie, assuming that like so many other cultishly adored comedies from the same period, it's tiny but intense fanbase had used up all of the good quotes and robbed them of their energy. In fact, there is no description in prose that could possibly describe the essence of that energy, let alone lessen it. One cannot break Black Dynamite into components: the dialogue does this, the camerawork does this, the acting does this. It is a perfect whole, where it's not so much "this line is funny" as "the totality of this thing is funny in ways that are as complex as the most challenging art film". Frankly, setting aside the fact that the thing is hellaciously funny and flawlessly-timed, I'd still wish with all my might that director Scott Sanders had been given any opportunities in the intervening years - his first project after Black Dynamite in 2009 is a something called Aztec Warrior that, at the time of this writing, appears to exist in a completed form, but has not been released or even given the smallest intimation that a release is forthcoming - just on the basis of how smart he is about using visuals to generate an emotional response and drive the film's meaning.

A fairly significant portion of that stylistic ingenuity is dedicated simply to re-creating the aesthetic of the minimally-budgeted, amateurish productions of the most bugfuck crazy blaxploitation films, like Black Belt Jones and Dolemite. It does this as well as I can imagine: whatever Shawn Maurer did, or had done, to the footage other than shooting it on Super 16mm, I cannot say, but it has exactly the right browned-out color and softness of the cheap stock used in the original '70s indie productions. The angles, the use of random split-screens, slow-motion accentuated by goofy sound effects, and zooms, so many of them, in so many places! Every last detail is in place to capture the chintzy, gaudy, fearlessly ebullient style of its inspiration, and purely on its strengths as a work of mimicry, the talent involved in putting Black Dynamite over would be quite admirable.

It's not merely "admirable", though: it's one of the most creative, varied comedies to have come out in recent memory. To hear the filmmakers talk about it - Scott, as well as Michael Jai White, who stars in the lead role and came up with the idea, and Byron Minns, who helped White develop the concept and is cited by the others as the walking blaxploitation encyclopedia - Black Dynamite isn't merely the story of how former CIA whiz kid, karate expert, world-class lover, and fighter for orphans' rights Black Dynamite fights to avenge his brother's death and clean up the streets from all kinds of horrible drugs. It's the story of how a crew of incompetents made Black Dynamite, as told through the finished product. White isn't playing Black Dynamite, he's playing the former NFL star who quit playing and entered acting as the result of a neck injury - a detail you would never, ever, ever notice watching the film, but hearing the filmmakers explain that this is the level of thought that went into their work is awe-inspiring. Plus, when you start to hunt for it, you can see that meta-narrative bleeding through, though perhaps not specifically enough to be able to actually figure out what The Making of 'Black Dynamite' looks like, without the aid of the audio commentary. Even so, we have here a goofy comedy aping the style of a bad movie that comes as close as any movie that I can name to presenting a cinematic version of Pale Fire, so that's pretty cool.

Even without that layer, the deep pleasures of the film go far beyond "these people know a hell of a lot about blaxploitation and have done a good job copying it and exaggerating its clichΓ©". That part is funny, but at a certain point it's more of a pretext for delivering some of the most untrammeled absurdism in any English-language film comedy of its era: by the midway point, Black Dynamite is no longer "just" a blaxploitation parody, it has started to create its own alternate reality of free-floating nonsense. It's the difference between the goofy comic exaggeration Bullhorn (played by Minns), a rapping freedom fighter who only ever speaks in rhyming quatrains, and the moment late in the film where Bullhorn can't come up with a rhyme, and the feeling is less "oh that silly Bullhorn!" than a Monty Pythonesque example of the film itself failing its characters, and them being oddly aware that they have just survived a screenwriting disaster. It is the difference between jokes about how pimps like to dress funny, and jokes about how the head pimp, a propos of nothing, uses an elaborate cosmology metaphor to explain his business. It is the free association scene - I will not spoil it. It is impossible to describe in a way that makes it sound funny, whereas in practice it's the most incredible moment in the whole film, as the plot more or less evaporates for a minutes-long experiment in impenetrable Dadaist logic.

Unpredictability is an enormously important quality for a comedy: the shock of unexpected juxtapositions and rhythms is one of the driving forces of "funny". Black Dynamite is as unpredictable in this sense as comedies get, starting with an incongruous ad for "Anaconda Malt Liquor, the only malt liquor approved by the United States government" (even more incongruously, thus weird little vignette turns out to be foreshadowing), and going all the way to its shift into a whole new genre for its final 20 minutes - a 20 minutes which are often criticised for being a bit too much (I've run into a great many reviews claiming that Black Dynamite is a fantastic 50-60 minute film unfortunately obliged to run things up to 84 minutes), though I can't agree. If anything, the fact that the movie starts blatantly making shit up to fill up its weird, distended finale is the only ending it could have: it is an exercise in turning the ridiculous into the surreal, and the fevered invention in the last quarter of the movie is nothing if not surreal. Ending in a way that made sense and felt disciplined would have been all wrong for a movie that's otherwise entirely dedicated to madcap mirror logic and chasing familiar tropes into their most exaggerated forms.


*As with any rule, there are of course exceptions, and this rule has a biggie: based on the evidence onscreen, I suspect that the makers of Airplane! had no particular love for disaster movies.