Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Black Dog (1998):

When I was a young kid, one of my neighbors was a long-haul truck driver. I’d see him climb into his rig and watch as he fired up the engine and drove away. The thought of thundering down the highways in one of those giant vehicles seemed to me, at that impressionable age, like a glamorous and exciting goal to aim for when I grew up.

Life didn’t pan out that way and I never became a truck driver, but I always remember my youthful dreams when I watched movies like Convoy (1978) and Black Dog (1998).

Written by William Mickelberry and Dan Vining, and directed by Kevin Hooks, Black Dog opens with the first of several well-staged car/truck chase sequences.

Jack Crews (Patrick Swayze), is an ex-con with limited choices and a wife and daughter to support. He finds himself caught between a financial rock and a hard place when he falls behind with the house payments. His boss, Cuttler (Graham Beckel), refers him to the coupon-clipping religious-maniac crook, Red (Meat Loaf), for a no-questions-asked driving job that pays well enough to save him and his family from eviction. Crews’ wife, Melanie
(Brenda Strong) urges him not to take the job, but the money is too tempting and he takes to the road with Earl (Randy Travis), and with Sonny (Gabriel Casseus), and Wes (Brian Vincent) following close behind the truck in a Camaro.

The consignment is a wagon load of toilets, until closer inspection also reveals a hidden cache of weapons. The illegal run is then beset with further hazards when Red attempts a double-cross to hijack the load for himself.

Further complications ensue when FBI agent, Ford (Charles Dutton), and ATF agent, McClaren (Stephen Tobolowsky), have to put aside their differences and work together to bring the gun-runners to justice.

The title, Black Dog, is a reference to the insidious fatigue that can creep up on a driver during the long hauls, causing them to lose concentration, or even fall asleep at the wheel, which resulted in Crews serving a two-year jail term for vehicular manslaughter.

This, for me, is one of Patrick Swayze’s better roles. His career waned somewhat since the success of earlier movies like Point Break, Ghost and Dirty Dancing. He was a versatile actor, multi-talented and often better than the material he had to work with. His death from cancer, at the age of 57, was both tragic and untimely.

Some may sneer and call Black Dog a dumb movie and, in many ways, it is … but so what? The plot is simple; there are some clich├ęs and lines of corny dialogue, but it’s also entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. If you’re looking for something light to help you wind down at the end of a long day, you can do a lot worse than this movie. Black Dog doesn’t take itself too seriously and is no more improbable than other movies about giant CGI robots that create a lot of stupid migraine-inducing noise, zombies, people who can fly, become invisible, walk through walls, cast spells, suck people’s blood to hold off the ageing process, shape-shift into wolves, or aliens that burst out of people’s chests and run amok. Many people who sneer at Black Dog would most likely have no problem enjoying those other movies … if they admitted it.

Finally, it’s all about the trucks, the cars, the carnage, the speed, the spectacle, and the well-staged stunts, all of which combines to make Black Dog a fast and engaging ride.

Enjoy it for what it is.