Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Ain't About The Honkies: Black Dynamite review



Last year's Black Dynamite was a rare beast, these days: a cinematic comedy which was actually funny. In fact, most of the time it was outright hysterical. Considering how little money the movie made, it has spawned a huge number of catchphrases into the popular culture of the past year ("KUNG-FU TREACHERY!" being my personal favourite, although the rather more difficult to use "Euphoria, shut the f**k up!" is also a gem) and earnt itself a sizeable enough cult following that an animated series has been picked up by Adult Swim for next year, based on an eleven-minute pilot that was previous unaired until its release on the internet last night. You can watch it here (even in the UK, which is a nice change) before reading the rest of this review.

The difficulty Dynamite faces is that television is much more fertile ground for comedy than movies these days. Unless you're a big fan of Judd Apatow or/and pointless vulgarity as a self-justifying punchline, the original Dynamite and perhaps Easy A represent the only truly successful entries in the genre I can remember for a long time. (Dynamite is way out on top though). On television, though, the animated series will not only have to contend with such fantastic shows as Community, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, but even an animated rival in the superlative Archer, which boasts not only the same kind of clever-appalling humour which Dynamite made its own on the big screen, but also some of the best character writing on a screen of any size. There's South Park too, should that ever recover its best form.
Of course, the Black Dynamite 'pilot' released yesterday is only half the length of the full episodes which will air sometime in 2012. It would be ridiculous to make a judgment on how the programme will turn out based on what is essentially an extended teaser. What I will say is that, seen within that context, there are signs of both potential strengths and weaknesses for the series to be found.

The good news is that I laughed several times, once or twice quite loudly, which is more than enough in an eleven-minute showing to offer plentiful reassurance that, if given time to develop its style, the animated Black Dynamite could eventually live up to the high standard set by its big-screen predecessor. Because there isn't enough time to build up any running gags, other than those which expand upon what was in the movie, what you get instead is a series of only loosely-related gags and one-liners. Fortunately, the hit-rate is high and very much reminiscent of what made the movie so special: there's the straight-faced absurdity ("I never told anyone this, but I used to be a children"), the sight-gags (the elongated bar 'censoring' Dynamite's manhood; the 'Whorephanage') and BD's notorious success with the ladies, albeit this time falling one spice short. Even in such a short time, the Black Dynamite character commands the screen as a comedic force.

There are a handful of things which I think could be problematic for the series at large if not sorted out when the series goes full-length. The first is that the fight scene falls completely flat, showing little of the inventiveness which made those of the movie so much delightfully silly. Relative to the length of the 'episode', the scene was given enough time to pull something out of the hat, but the pace and presentation of the fight felt routine - which is saying something, considering the enemies were literally a gang of muppets. It's just Black Dynamite and his gang beating the stuffing (again, literally) out of their enemies - no "I threw that s**t before I entered the room!" wit here.

Speaking of which, the visual style - although impressive in a lot of ways and with a distinctive comic identity - didn't convey the same warmth that the pseudo-'70s visuals of the movie had for its blaxploitation subject. On its own terms, the animation is more than strong enough and frequently amusing (see young Dynamite and his 'tache), but one of the things I particularly liked about the movie was how affectionate a parody it was. The cartoon was funny, but didn't share that affection or seem particularly reminiscent of any '70s cartoons I can remember. Is it right to complain that it looked too glossy and expensive?

Consequently, when it tried to recall the cheap pleasures of '70s blaxploitation, it didn't feel all that authentic. My feeling was that something closer to Fritz The Cat could have worked better in this regard. Is it a failure? No - on several occasions, the animation got the laugh it was going for. It just didn't quite suit the material as well as a different style might have done. Obviously this won't change for the full series, but softening the edges a little wouldn't hurt.

Regardless, this was about as much as could have been expected from a half-length teaser - and as we all know, Black Dynamite just ain't Black Dynamite at only half length. There are plenty of laughs, some fabulous one-liners and even if the animation doesn't quite capture the style of the movie or genre that inspired it, there's certainly something strong enough there to to make an impact on its terms. This cracker can dig it.


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