Outlaw Johnny Black

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With his cult film “Black Dynamite,” Michael Jai White launched the Blaxploitation subgenre back in 2009. The comedic film was an oddity of Black filmmaking at the time, unlike any other; Tyler Perry movies were out of control, and the first Black Disney princess spent the most of “The Princess and the Frog” as a frog. “Black Dynamite” was the newest Black movie at the time, and it had enough cartoonish kinetic energy to inspire a short-lived, stylized animated series on Adult Swim.

With his most recent film, “Outlaw Johnny Black,” White makes a comeback to genre parodies by trading in a pair of bellbottoms for a gunslinger’s hat. In it, the director fervently pays homage to the spaghetti western subgenre, much like Gore Verbinski with “Rango” or transparent Sidney Poiter with “Buck and the Preacher.” Although it takes too long for him to pull his gun, “Outlaw Johnny Black” is a well-made and amusing spaghetti western comedy with a welcome sense of silliness and a charming lead.

Like many movies of the same caliber, “Johnny Black” begins with the title character’s stern-faced protagonist (Michael Jai White) riding into an antique western Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the back of a horse.

He stumbles into the local pub to have a drink as everyone, including the sheriff, stares at him nervously and politely. When Black glances outside, he notices a white criminal gang abusing a pair of Native Americans. When he confronts the group, the leader tries to intimidate him, but Johnny Black doesn’t back down. Black kicks the leader in the head as the leader labels him a “Dumb N… Off-screen, someone yells, “He was going to say nincompoop,” as the leader falls. Then, as he kicks numerous bad guys in the head and fires his rifle, White’s martial arts expertise is put to use. His work behind the camera has the same assurance in style as any given Italian-made Western classic from the 1960s.

In this cold open, White embraces the fundamental Western components with a modern comedic wit that aims for a laid-back tone.

In usual tradition, “Outlaw Johnny Black” is a revenge story about wanted gunman Johnny Black searching for Outlaw Brett Clayton (Chris Browning), who murdered Black’s father as a child. He carries a bullet with Clayton’s name etched on it because his rage is so intense.

Black gets imprisoned after saving the Native Americans in the first few minutes because, well, it says so in the title. He is about to be hanged when he quickly flees and hides. Black, who is dehydrated in the hot desert, finds Reverend Percy (a hilarious Byron Minns), who provides him water.

To meet his longtime love, Bessie Lee (Erica Ash), with whom he has been exchanging letters, Percy is traveling to a nearby mining town with a mostly Black population. He also plans to become the new church pastor there. Percy takes an arrow to the chest during a Native American tribe’s ambush, but he survives. In some strange Looney Tunes-like scenario, he finds himself dressed as a bird.

Black breaks free and enters the village, pretending to be Percy even down to the preacher’s line of work. He intends to hang around until he can take the loot and leave once he discovers that the church has some wealth. At some point, he becomes active in the neighborhood and develops feelings for Jessie Lee, Bessie Lee’s sweetheart sister (Anika

While the humor is toned down compared to “Black Dynamite,” director David White’s earnest filmmaking—tight choreography during gunplay or bar brawl sequences—more than makes up for it. With “Outlaw Johnny Black,” White also seems more mature and introspective. His focus on character—an criminal discovering the strength of community—is carried out with measured integrity, although being cliched. White’s greatest strength is his continual veering away from any cynical zone, even as he amazes by nailing every aspect of the Western genre on the script and behind the camera. He doesn’t try to emulate the qualities that made “Black Dynamite” a smash, nor does he want to be as outlandish as previous Western parodies.

White adds “Outlaw Johnny Black” to the short roster of Western movies directed by Black that also includes Poitier, Mario Van Peebles, and The Bullitts. There are too many R-rated films on this short list to count. White’s Western persona is ready to be a Western hero for a new generation of children and adults who have never had a Johnny Black to look up to.

Currently showing in cinemas.

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