To describe Cliff Roquemore’s debut film as “outlandish” would be more than a mild understatement. Based on the adventures of Rudy Ray Moore’s stand-up character Dolemite, the movie follows the eponymous 1975 film. Dolemite is ‘The Human Tornado’, himself a comedian and pimp, a tongue in cheek reaction to the blaxploitation leads of the early 70s – Super Fly and Sweet Sweetback.
The Human Tornado opens accordingly, with Dolemite’s uproarious comedy set managing to balance the mocking of black stereotypes with sharp, culturally appropriate observational comedy. The sequence is driven by an almost intense score of African drumming, as if a sarcastic nod to one of the first examples of blaxploitation tropes crossing over into mainstream cinema: 1973 Bond outing Live and Let Die. To celebrate the end of his successful comedy tour, Dolemite throws a party at his mansion, and who might happen to turn up but the sheriff’s wife. A white woman at a party of only black guests, she is quite realistically just looking to pay Dolemite to sleep with her. And of course he obliges.
Driving the story forward, a noise complaint is made (by some white neighbours) about the party, and the police decide to head over. There are strange echoes of last year’s Detroit as they interrupt the proceedings, with the sheriff proclaiming: “Only shoot them if you have to”. There are important civil rights issues dotted throughout the film, deliberately accentuated to draw attention, only to be laughed off or brushed over. Of course, the sheriff discovers his wife in bed and shoots her, leaving Dolemite to go on the run to sunny California.
What follows is perhaps one of the most madcap adventures ever to grace the big screen. The plot is about as focused as The Blues Brothers – Dolemite and his cohorts are constantly distracted from their mission, which incidentally is to rescue 2 dancers that have been kidnapped by a gangster. But they are slowed down by one too many poorly choreographed fight sequences, a few too many ridiculous characters, and far too many graphic sex scenes. One of which, quite literally, brings the house down. Tonally and structurally, the piece doesn’t really adhere to cinematic rules, becoming almost just a collection of absurd vignettes – a blaxploitation version of Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. But with more sex.
The Human Tornado, as well as its predecessor Dolemite, could be a masterpiece, if it only knew how self aware it should be. The film steers away from Mel Brooks’ style outright fun poking, but of course has its fair share of send ups of the blaxploitation genre. But, like in Paul Verhoeven’s excellent Starship Troopers, there is a sense of respect for the style behind the obvious spoof gags. Sadly, Moore’s tongue isn’t quite as far into his cheek as Verhoeven’s, and perhaps that is why you might not realise the film is a spoof just from watching it. It feels like Moore and writer Jerry Jones were let loose to do absolutely whatever they wanted, and if Roquemore had reined them in a little, The Human Tornado might be more than just a niche cult classic.
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