Patrick Swayze has had a hard time in recent years capitalising on the star image formed by Dirty Dancing (1987) and Ghost (1990).
His persona, at its best, is an attractive blend of tough guy and sensitive flower. But his choices of roles have tended to take him too far in only one of these directions at a time. So Swayze has remained stranded in a limbo between eccentric action movies like Point Break (1991) and saccharine pap such as Three WIshes (1995).
Black Dog puts him fairly firmly back in the action seat as Jack, a daredevil truck driver – although, obligatorily, he is also a caring and troubled family man. Having served time, Jack tries to keep away from the seductions of the tawdry criminal world. However, like many action heroes before him, he is lured into one last job – the one that will ease all his domestic, financial debts.
Jack is soon on the road carrying an illegal cargo, dodging all manner of mean guys led by Red (Meat Loaf) – a flamboyant villain who likes to quote epic poetry as he piles through metal, wire and flame. Alongside Jack is a small band of potentially treacherous truckers – including the popular singer Randy Travis, offering an unconvincing impersonation of someone who supposedly cannot hold a tune.
The promotions for Black Dog try hard to associate it with that breakneck action classic, Speed (1994). But this is a far more modest effort which manages to be only intermittently thrilling. Talented director Kevin Hooks (Passenger 57, 1992) takes a completely formulaic script and delivers the goods deftly and unashamedly.
This is a film that will find its faithful audience more on video or DVD than at theatres. As with many minor genre pieces, it plays intriguingly on incidental, peripheral details – such as the invocation of a mythic black dog that haunts, Dostoevsky-style, wayward truckers who have immersed themselves too much in sin and corruption.
MORE Swayze: Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
MORE Hooks: Irresistible Force
© Adrian Martin July 1998