Outlaw Johnny Black
September 12th, 2023
MOVIE: OUTLAW JOHNNY BLACK
STARRING: MICHAEL JAI WHITE, ERICA ASH, BARRY BOSTWICK, GLYNN TURMAN
DIRECTED BY: MICHAEL JAI WHITE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
What Outlaw Johnny Black is as a film is more than just a comedy or a western. It’s more than just a vehicle for writer, director, and lead actor Michael Jai White. It’s actually a love letter. It’s a love letter to cinema, a tribute to the many Black actors that came before, an homage to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, and a shining example of what more movies should be. Following up on the success of Black Dynamite, White steps into the Wild West, in a combo of a western and blaxploitation, with a bit of gunslinging, and plenty of laughs in his exciting new hit Outlaw Johnny Black.
Like many good Westerns, it’s about a man set on revenge, and the hero is Johnny Black (White). He is the son of a preacher, his father Bullseye Black (Glynn Turman) would travel into towns, tell folks of the good book, and do card tricks. When the ruthless Brett Clayton (Chris Browning) and his gang roll through town, they kill Bullseye and change the course of Johnny’s life forever. He becomes skilled with his fists and fast with his gun, spending his time searching for Clayton, with hopes to make his father proud. Johnny first befriends a preacher named Reverend Percy (Byron Minns), but when Johnny hides from Clayton’s gang in a small town, he pretends to be the new preacher for the church, connecting with his supposed love interest Miss Jessie Lee (Anika Nonie Rose). Black’s presence is both comical and a godsend, as the fearless man becomes needed to save the town from a slimy oil baron named Tom Sheally (Barry Bostwick). In his pursuit of revenge, Johnny starts to fall for Jessie’s sister Bessie (Erica Ash), and finds out that it’s good to be the hero too. Everyone soon can see why it’s not smart to mess with Johnny Black.
From the narrative sense, Outlaw Johnny Black does have some flaws, including that it’s far too long run-time and not all the comedy lands. Outside of those issues, it’s quite impressive for a revival of old exploitation westerns. On top of that, it’s quite hilarious, as the writing from White and co-writer Minns has a flair for parodies such as Hot Shots! or Blazing Saddles, with jokes that don’t diminish Johnny Black’s journey, but make it more enjoyable. What’s ultimately impressive is that White has a great sense of comedic timing, never taking his character too seriously for us to laugh at, but also creating a cool hero to root for.
The third act of Outlaw Johnny Black is the big climax, with Johnny’s pretending as a preacher can only go so far and the townsfolk need someone to step up to the bad guys. That’s where White lets his action senses fly, unafraid to kick a few guys in the head and let bullets pop in a shootout. Although there is an undeniable rawness to the production value of Outlaw Johnny Black, what is clear from beginning to end is White’s undying love for past 1960s and 1970s cinema, as he pays tribute to greats such as Fred Williamson in Tough Guys or Jim Brown in Take a Hard Ride. White’s style proves that this kind of Quentin Tarantino-like nostalgia is not unique to the Pulp Fiction director and a style that deserves the touch of great Black voices such as Jai White.
With Outlaw Johnny Black it becomes more about getting the aesthetics right than just the story and Michael Jai White nails that. The opening credits have that cool animated exploitation style, and a score reminiscent of films such as Django or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. What becomes clear is that Outlaw Johnny Black is the kind of movie we don’t see enough of. It’s a laugh riot, an action bonanza, and Michael Jai White as Johnny Black is one badass motherfucker.
OUTLAW JOHNNY BLACK IS PLAYING IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE ON FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 15TH, 2023.
WRITTEN BY: Leo Brady