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  Black Dog Long Distance PatrickBuy this film here.
Year: 1998
Director: Kevin Hooks
Stars: Patrick Swayze, Meat Loaf, Randy Travis, Gabriel Casseus, Brian Kelly, Graham Beckel, Brenda Strong, Rusty de Wees, Cyril O'Reilly, Erin Broderick, Charles S. Dutton, Stephen Tobolowsky, Lorraine Toussaint, Hester Hargett, Stuart Greer, Whitt Brantley
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jack Crews (Patrick Swayze) used to be a long distance truck driver, but now works as a mechanic thanks to a vehicular manslaughter conviction that saw him imprisoned for a spell. However, his boss has invited him to make a lot of extra cash by agreeing to return to his trucking career, and drive a cab pulling a special cargo from Atlanta, so though he is reluctant to get back behind the wheel, he feels he has no choice when the bills are piling up and he has a wife, Melanie (Brenda Strong) and young daughter to look after. What he does not know is that the company who has hired him has recently had a spot of bother with the law when one of their trucks was chased by the law for carrying a stash of illegal arms...

And that pursuit did not end well, as we see under the opening credits when said vehicle explodes in a ball of flame. Why does it explode? Because this is an action movie, one of the last of the nineteen-nineties to heavily feature live action stunts before works like this became the reason most of these started to rely on computer-created imagery for their spectacle. There were two main reasons for that, in fact, one was that it was cheaper to animate your action sequence, and the other was that it was far safer: Black Dog had too many behind the scenes issues with its dangerous setpieces that highlighted the benefits of relying on realistic-looking fakery rather than putting lives on the line.

Of course, the trouble with that was the CGI was often easy to spot, either because the stunts were ridiculous and would never have happened that way in real life, or because the animation wasn't quite up to scratch; many was the moviegoer who would complain that what they were watching appeared artificial and that took them out of the story. With this, everything looked resolutely realistic thanks to director Kevin Hooks adhering to his principles about how to stage these crashes and chases, yet at the same time remained absolutely ridiculous as the action flicks of the eighties and nineties had made their stock in trade. Vehicles didn't just crash, they tumbled in a riot of screaming metal, then more often than not exploded for good measure.

All that said, it always helped if there was a personality at the heart of this violent tomfoolery, and this was one of Patrick Swayze's final starring roles in such a production that showed off his penchant for keeping things kinetic. In spite of his character's troubled past where his recklessness in trying to stay awake on the road when he really should not have (he was trying to make it back home for his daughter's birthday), we can tell from what unfolds that Crews is a basically decent man forced into extraordinary circumstances he is doing his best to extricate himself from. One way to tell that stemmed from the star's essential decency in his image, but there were other, interesting elements to him, such as the way he never used a gun in any of his combat sequences.

Crews, no matter that he was driving an artillery from A to B, never considered going into the back and helping himself when the truck suffers multiple attempted hijackings on the road, crimes that don't have any possible explanation when there were far easier methods for Bible-quoting bad guy Meat Loaf to have stolen the weaponry, such as not allowing them out on the road in one of his own trucks in the first place. But then there would be no movie, so naturally he concocts all sorts of highly foolhardy ways of getting Crews and his fellow employees (including country singer Randy Travis in a goodnatured, self-spoofing performance) to grind to a halt and give up the guns. If you relished those old movies and the myriad times they destroyed cars, trucks and what have you, and actually did the destroying as part of the movie and not added a computer cartoon in post-production, there was a warm feeling for you to appreciate here. All that and mystical references to black dogs as a supernatural threat to drivers with too little sleep, a little texture added to what was once basic, but now seemed like another era of rich action filmmaking. Music by George S. Clinton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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