Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:30 - Released 5/98

In the tradition of terrible trucker movies like White Line Fever (1975), this epic macho-fest lives up admirably to its genre. With little more to offer than big explosions and ridiculous tractor-trailer dogfights, Kevin Hooks's Black Dog is a study in shallowness. Patrick Swayze has done some adequate acting before in such titles as Dirty Dancing (1987) and Ghost (1990), and really shined in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), but here he seems to be working hard to have no character. A cardboard cutout could have served just as well and saved the producers a lot of money.

Swayze is Jack Crews, a former trucker who went to jail and lost his license after accidentally killing a pedestrian one rainy night when he hadn't had enough sleep. At the start of the film, he's out of prison and working as a mechanic making next to nothing and in danger of losing his house. His wife Melanie (Brenda Strong) is supportive, but they just can't make ends meet. Then, along comes an opportunity from his low-life boss: $10,000 to drive a load of illegal weapons from Atlanta to New Jersey. When Jack reminds him that his license had been revoked, his boss says, "You only need a license if you get stopped." So Jack agrees. This is the kind of sparkling scriptwork we have from the three-person team of William Mickelberry, Dan Vining, and Scott Sturgeon. Apparently, in this case, no heads are better than three.

As soon as he arrives at the Atlanta trucking agency run by the Bible-quoting Red (Meat Loaf), he senses trouble. A handful of guys are assigned to go with him to provide "protection," and only one of them, Sonny (Gabriel Casseus), appears to have all cylinders firing. But Earl (Randy Travis) and Wes (Brian Vincent) prove themselves later on. As soon as they leave, Red is after them to hijack the valuable cargo, ready to kill any and all participants. Why he didn't just shoot Jack in the parking lot is beyond me; it would have saved a lot of time and trouble, and I could have gotten home earlier.

But no, we have to endure another hour of trucking, shooting, blowing up, trucking, shooting, blowing up, trucking, shooting — oh, and some more blowing up. Even after the entire story has been resolved and we think, "yay, we've hit the credits," there is a ridiculous extra action scene tacked on that produces an audible groan from any audience member over 14.

This is the worst I've ever seen Swayze. He is dead from the neck up; a thick, jarhead tough-guy with no more personality than a bag of bricks. Travis and Loaf come off as, well, singers trying to act, and the only person who creates a believable character is Casseus. How in the world did Hooks let that happen? *

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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