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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Monday, November 27, 2023

Outlaw Johnny Black (2023)

I’m not sure when I first saw this teased, but I believe it was around the release of director/star Michael Jai White’s Black Dynamite. I loved that movie and was super excited to see his Blaxploitation Western. I’m a huge fan of Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Woody Strode and they made some great flicks in the sixties and seventies. Truth be told I sort of forgot about this one until I saw one of my friends talking about it online. That same day I had a copy in my possession and dropped everything to watch it.

The movie opens with Johnny Black riding into a town. He is there to find and kill a man named Brett Clayton. While Johnny is an outlaw Clayton is a murderer who is there to rob the bank. We see in the first of a series of flashbacks that when Johnny was a boy his father, a gun toting preacher, was shot by Clayton. Since then he has been on a mission to get revenge. But Johnny is also a decent guy and when he sees the locals beating up on some Indians he stops them but accidentally gives the sheriff a heart attack. That leads to him being convicted, saved from the gallows, and spending the rest of the movie on the run from the law.

Along the way Johnny meets up with a preacher named Reverend Percy, steals his identity (to be fair the thought he died in another Indian attack) and falls in love with a lovely lady while waiting to steal money from a church. I mean he is an outlaw after all… Though something happens to him when he is forced to preach to keep his cover. His father’s words come pouring out of his mouth and suddenly make sense. Now instead of wanting to make off with the loot he now wants to save his lady friend, Jessie Lee, and protect the community from the evil rancher Tom Sheally. Don’t worry though as guess who shows up to burn the town to the ground on behalf of the bad guy? Yep, old Brett Clayton is going to get what is coming to him.

Outlaw Johnny Black isn’t what I had expected it to be. I was anticipating an over the top violent homage to the Spaghetti westerns common in the old exploitation days of the Grindhouse and Drive-ins. We do get some of that but most of the movie is about reminding us what is so great about the movies that inspired this one.

There are some clever homages to the exploitation classics westerns or not. Early on we get a Billy Jack reference about a foot meeting someone’s head and there not being anything they can do about it. Jai White also channels his inner Eastwood when he lets the undertaker know how many coffins to get ready when he rides into town. There is a last minute rescue from the gallows that will seem familiar to fans. Toss in a big saloon fight with all the highlights you would expect like a guy sliding down the bar, someone going over the railing, and that sort of thing.

The humor is also spot on. Whether in the spirit of the non PC culture with white guys playing many of the Indians as well as the shall we say… manly Indian lady that Percy is forced to marry many of the jokes do feel like those we would get in the seventies. There is also a reference to the classic Mel Brooks flick Blazing Saddles. Yeah, a horse gets punched and knocked out! Though instead of Mongo it is the previously mentioned Indian lady. We even get a funny gag when Johnny Black is dying of thirst in the desert and his horse kicks the bucket. It literally kicks the bucket! Maybe it is just me, but I found that very funny. We also get some great dialogue with the following line being one of my favorites. “I’m Crackshot Bob…” “Now you just shot.” Not sure if that works out of context well but trust me it is hilarious.

White is channeling his inner Hammer
The cast that Michael Jai White has assembled is great. Byron Minns, who was awesome in Black Dynamite is equally as good here as the Reverend Percy. He brings some over the top comedic delivery to his character that works well with the deadpan deliver that White brings to the lead role of Johnny Black. He is an excellent sidekick and the pair of them have chemistry that makes the story work. Barry Bostwick is good as the bad guy Tom Sheally though he isn’t asked to do much. Randy Couture, Tommy Davidson, Kevin Chapman, and Chris Browning all shine in supporting roles. Michael Madsen shows up in a blink and you’ll miss it bit part too. Those names might not be familiar to you, but I guarantee the faces will ring a bell.

Director/Actor/Writer Michael Jai White is clearly a fan of the movies that he is parodying with Outlaw Johnny Black. To that end I wasn’t surprised with the cameos. While we never see him as he only does a voiceover, I instantly recognized Louis Gossett Jr.’s voice. He does a voiceover as the preacher who was gunned down by the bad guys in a letter. There is also a very cool moment at the end of the movie where the main cast members toast a couple of fellas sitting on a balcony. Those men? Fred “the Hammer” Williamson and the late great Jim Brown. I loved the fact that respect was paid to the men who worked on and inspired a movie like this. It is that sort of attention to detail that made me dig Black Dynamite and Outlaw Johnny Black.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m going to recommend this movie. I hope that it does well because I’d love to see what Michael Jai White can do next. I certainly hope it doesn’t take another fourteen years for someone to give him the resources to make a follow-up.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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