Mel Gibson faces Edge Of Darkness while Black Dynamite takes it to the Man

by Mark Burger

Mel Gibson’s first starring role in nearly seven years finds the actor in familiar territory, playing a righteous, wronged man who becomes an unstoppable force of revenge — a good guy compelled to do bad things in order to mete our retribution.

This type of characterization has certainly served him well in such films as the Mad Max trilogy, the Lethal Weapon quartet and Braveheart (1995), which took home five Oscars including Best Picture and Gibson for Best Director, and it serves him again here in this “comeback” film directed by Martin Campbell.

Edge of Darkness is based on the fine 1985 BBC-TV mini-series of the same name which Campbell also directed, and which propelled him to international prominence in feature films, with a couple of James Bond pictures to his credit.

Gibson’s Tom Craven is a veteran Boston police detective (replete with accent) whose reunion with daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is twice interrupted — first by Emma’s violent illness, then by her violent death via a masked gunman waiting outside her door.

It is initially presumed that Emma’s murder was committed by someone from Tom’s past, but it soon becomes clear that she, and not her father, was the intended target, and that it has something to do with the company she worked for — a corporation run by oily fat cat Jack Bennett (Danny Huston), who clearly has much to hide. (The size of the facility, to say nothing of Bennett’s ultramodern office, are dead giveaways that this corporation is up to no good.)

Craven will, of course, get to the bottom of this nefarious conspiracy. It’s a dirty job, but… well, you get the picture.

In a role originally to have been played by Robert De Niro, the always-welcome Ray Winstone brings a relaxed air of menace to the role of Darius Jedburgh, the sort of ultra-cool, deep-cover government operative who knows where all the bodies are buried because, quite frankly, he’s the one who buried them. Is he friend or foe? It hardly matters, given Winstone’s engaging presence.

It’s to Gibson’s credit that he doesn’t sleepwalk through his familiar role, and he wears his 50 years comfortably. Oddly enough, nearly all of his male co-stars in the film tower over him, perhaps lending an additional underdog element to the character. Still, given Gibson’s actionmovie persona, there’s never any doubt who’s going to be doling out the lion’s share of retribution and revenge.

Campbell’s customary technical proficiency is evident in the film’s action scenes, but there are also long, surprisingly drawn-out sequences that bottle the story’s momentum. At one point, Craven is kidnapped from his home and taken to the enemy’s lair — from which he promptly escapes and returns home. Had he simply blown away the two goons who abducted him in the first place (and it’s giving nothing away to reveal that they do, eventually, get blown away), it would have been more expedient.

And in a movie like Edge of Darkness, expedience is of paramount importance.

Taking its inspiration from the longgone but much-beloved “blaxploitation” films of the 1970s, Black Dynamite is awash in nostalgia and good vibes. This sassy spoof of soul cinema knows its stuff — and has a lot of fun riffing to it.

Michael Jai White (who also receives a story and screenplay credit) plays the title role to the hilt. Black Dynamite is a buff, tough badass — and he’s even got his own theme music. Once the CIA’s hippest agent, Black Dynamite swings back into action when his brother is murdered.

With its exaggerated, slapstick action, constant use of stock footage (some of which doesn’t match — delightfully) and mind-boggling retro-’70s slang, Black Dynamite is far superior to most contemporary big-screen spoofs, which attempt to wedge a storyline between the gags. This film takes its storyline — which is simplistic, to be sure (many blaxploitation movies were, too) — and proceeds to fill it from there. It’s outrageous but also affectionate.

The actors, some of them almost unrecognizable wearing outrageous ’70s threads and sky-high Afro wigs, include Arsenio Hall (as “Tasty Freeze”), Tommy Davidson (as “Cream Cheese”), Bokeem Woodbine, Mykelti Williamson, Nicole Ari Parker, Obba Babatunde and even former NBA great John Salley, playing a character named “Kotex,” believe it or not.

Salli Richardson- Whitfield pays homage to Pam Grier with her turn as Gloria, Black Dynamite’s love interest, who’s as lethal as she is luscious. Everyone’s in on the joke (obviously), but everyone plays it straight-faced… more or less.

Director/coscreenwriter Scott Sanders keeps things moving at a breezy pace, although even at under 90 minutes some of the freshness wears a little thin. Nevertheless, it would not be unwelcome for Black Dynamite to again ignite the big screen at some point in the future. After all, that “kung fu treachery” that he so despises can crop up at any time, anywhere….

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