Willie Dynamite is a film that claims it can hold its own against other ‘Blaxploitation’ films of the era, like Shaft and Superfly. Willie Dynamite describes its protagonist as ‘Tight, Together and Mean’.
Willie Dynamite is a film that’s lying to itself.
The film follows moderately successful pimp (something we’re told, but not shown) Willie Dynamite and the deconstruction of his life and business after he has a somewhat passive aggressive confrontation with one of his rivals. What ensues is mildly hostile takeover of his part of town, Willie being pursued by the police, a bizarre and instantly ignored murder, several trials of prostitutes and Willie’s car getting towed seemingly every other scene.
Although the overarching theme of the film makes some sense, the fact of the matter is that as its run-time progresses, Willie Dynamite becomes less of a cohesive film, and more a series of disjointed events. Scenes are slotted in that could just as likely be sloppy editing as they could dream sequences.
The somewhat dull and sloppy story is in no chance of being saved by its characters either. There is nothing likable about Willie; at best, he should be a side-villain in a better blaxpoloitation film; someone the protagonist would spend five minutes dealing with before moving on. Because there’s no reason for anyone to give a shit about Willie Dynamite, despite all the films attempts to convince you otherwise – which come far too late in the game to make an impression.
You would think then, that perhaps the film could be about how the other characters interact with this despicable pimp. But no; only one other character in the film gets any decent character development. Unfortunately, she and all Willie’s other prostitutes come off as pretty moronic; constantly relying on a pimp who, from the audiences perspective, seems pretty lacking when it comes to his job. The third character in the running for potential lead is somewhat interesting, until she undergoes a weird crisis of faith and suddenly seems to become enamored with Willie, despite hating him for the whole film. Characters in general have pretty screwy motivations in this film; the police in particular, who are part of one of the weirdest instances of police brutality you’ll ever seen on screen; it’s both nonsensical and bizarre.
Perhaps the only saving graces of the film are that the dialogue never feels as clunky as the story, and the costume department did a fantastic job. To use the vernacular of the times, Willie’s outfits are “outta’ sight”. Unfortunately, the set pieces are all rather dismal, and thus drag the look down a notch. It’s not even done in a clever juxtaposition kind of way; it just looks like the costume department ended up on the wrong film and figured they had to commit.
All-in-all, Willie Dynamite may have been somewhat relevant in the seventies, but in the modern day, films with a dragging, screwy plot where the protagonist ‘pimp slaps’ women isn’t the most enjoyable watching experience.
Dir: Gilbert Moses
Prd: David Brown & Richard D. Zanuck
Scr: Ron Cutler
Cast: Roscoe Orman, Diana Sands, Joyce Walker & Thalmus Rasulala
Music: J.J. Johnson
Willie Dynamite comes out today on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download.