Back in the 70s, CB’s were all the rage. These days it may seem odd that we got worked up about talking to each other on a radio, but it really is not much different from the people of today who clog your email with recycled jokes and gag photos. It was such an innocent time, those halcyon days, when American’s craved the life of the long-haul trucker—the weeks of solitude filled with bluegrass radio, the questionable foodstuffs at truckstop bistros, the ball-caps from tractor companies, and the ingesting of fistfuls of caffeine pills. It was also an era of the best trucking films. Before his shark, Steven Spielberg made the television movie “Duel”, Sam Peckinpah gave us “Convoy”, and steel wheel movies reached their piqued peak with “Smokey and The Bandit”. But while these are great “trucking” movies, they are by no measure great films.
So why, some twenty or so years later, would anyone dare to create a modern tractor-trailer feature? The answer is one word: foreigners. “Black Dog” is the result of a group effort by international production companies from four nations joining American filmmakers, evidenced by the fact that no less than ten producers are listed in the title credits. Found in this list is Raffaella De Laurentiis, daughter of Dino, a man who achieved infamy for inflicting upon the world numerous grandiose film catastrophes. Her appearance here is proof that the apple doesn’t rot far from the tree.
I always allowed that the negative perception of Americans in Europe was more a result of our misbehaving while traveling within their borders. Considering that we send them our boorish wealthy, demanding retirees, and backpacking collegians who could blame them for being testy with us? But now I am beginning to wonder if they are not simply a mass of stunted cement heads. You start with a group of ostensibly moneyed, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan entertainment power brokers and a trucker movie is the product of their impression on America? It certainly clears up my confusion on the myriad baffling decisions to come out of the United Nations.
This multi-national consortium elected Kevin Hooks to guide their diesel-fueled vision. While they heralded the fact that he was the director of “Passenger 57,” he has a voluminous resume’ in television. This was most helpful considering the plot is on par with a rejected episode of “B.J. and the Bear”. Next they cast Kevin Sorbo as their lead, but he went down with a shoulder injury and could not continue with the film. (I have a hard time picturing Hercules with a torn rotator cuff.) This paved the way for Patrick Swayze to jete’ into the role.
Swayze must have been in a state of disbelief that his career led him to this type of project. For the duration of the entire film he looks as if he is intentionally trying not to act, possibly in the hope that his performance would be so indistinguishable that no one would recognize him. At times he looks like he is hoping to blend into the background. Accolades should go to the casting director because it is clear that the intent was to team Patrick with a cast that would elevate his non-performance. Instead of actors, they surround him with names from the recording industry—country baritone Randy Travis and rock curiosity Meat Loaf–choosing to poach the understudies from a high school production of “Brigadoon” only as a last resort.
For his role, Travis sports a sexual predator’s beard and mostly glowers, trying to appear intimidating but mostly looking as if he is struggling to calculate fractions in his head. His character fills the voids on the road writing country ditties, and as a gag he sings off key, contrary to Randy’s obvious vocal talents. Therefore by extension we can gather that Swayze’s non-performance is an indication that he is an Oscar winner in the making.
Mr. Loaf, meanwhile, must have left his best stuff on the set of his last video shoot. Here he is a rather manic truck depot manager named Red who is prone to spouting Gospel verses that have no relevance, as well as having an unhealthy obsession with the coupon inserts from the Sunday paper. His character is the most faceted of this group, but he delivers his lines with all the fine distinction of a cinder block being flung through a bay window.
All the histrionics are a good thing however, given the crowd this movie targeted. The intended demographic has to hover somewhere between under-stimulated eight year olds and those adults who write to their local newspaper to complain about the lack of professional wrestling results in the sports section. Subtlety just won’t play with these people.
Get the rest of the story in part three of MILK CARTON CINEMA: “BLACK DOG”>>>
Posted on September 16, 2003 in Features by Brad Slager
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