Michael Jai White follows his cult favorite spoof Black Dynamite with his directorial debut, Outlaw Johnny Black, turning his satirical gaze to the Old West. Long one of Hollywood’s best action stars and screen martial artists, Michael Jai White finally turns his attention to filmmaking. Not only does he direct and co-write the film, but he stars as the title character, a gunslinger on a quest for vengeance against the man who murdered his father years earlier. But Johnny Black is no saint; and taking advantage of a preacher’s misfortune, he assumes the man of the cloth’s identity, moves in on his job and his woman, while also trying to allude the posse on his trail.
White’s Black Dynamite was a popular favorite that inspired a ton of copycats, so the assumption is that he would follow the same formula with Outlaw Johnny Black. But that’s not the case. Sure, there are blaxploitation elements to it and the humor is certainly goofy at times, however, the style is closer to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, which managed to be funny, topical, and critical of the genre while being respectful of it. This is more of a straight-forward Western than many will expect.
Outlaw Johnny Black owes a lot to the Westerns of the ’60s and ’70s that featured Black celebrities such as Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. While shootouts are common, White mixes in a healthy dose of kung-fu, giving his fans what they’re looking for in that regard. And fitting with the style of the period, Johnny Black is a smooth operator with the ladies who can’t keep their hands off of his rippling abs. At the same time, White has made a film that pays respect to faith-based culture, surrounding Johnny Black with devout characters who hope to change his path through scripture. Their Christian beliefs, while often part of the movie’s humor, are never a joke.
If that sounds like a lot of different tones competing against one another, it’s true the film can be a bit messy. But White is making a movie that combines many aspects of his personality and touches on the many different phases of his career. Outlaw Johnnny Black is a film that fans of Westerns can love as much as fans of White’s previous work, and if it leads to White tackling more genres, we’ll be lucky for it.
Outlaw Johnny Black opens exclusively in theaters on September 15th.