Patrick Swayze does some dirty driving in “Black Dog,” a stripped for speed B movie that redefines the term “road rage.” Aptly cast as a soulfully virile ex convict who’s tricked into hauling a truckload of illegal weapons across state lines, Swayze provides some much needed, femme skewing marquee allure for an otherwise male oriented action opus. Overly familiar but fitfully exciting, pic has potential to post respectable B.O. numbers before making a bigger splash in ancillary venues.

Working from a by-the-numbers script by William Mickelberry and Dan Vining, helmer Kevin Hooks (“Passenger 57”) wastes little time getting his show on the road. Opening sequence intros Charles Dutton as an FBI agent whose surveillance of an arms delivery is inadvertently sabotaged by an overzealous ATF operative (Stephen Tobolowsky, in a marginally more serious version of the role he essayed in last year’s “Mr. Magoo”). As the two crime fighters reluctantly join forces, focus shifts to Jack Crews (Swayze), who’s struggling to provide for his wife (Brenda Strong) and young daughter (Erin Broderick) after serving a two-year prison sentence.

Jack worked as a truck driver until he fell asleep at the wheel and accidentally caused a fatal mishap. Because of his conviction for vehicular manslaughter, he lost his license to operate big rigs, and his job as mechanic for a trucking firm doesn’t pay nearly enough for him to cover his overdue mortgage payments. When his new boss gives him a chance to get back behind the wheel, Jack is unable to resist.

Cutler (Graham Beckel) offers Jack $10,000 to make an “off-the-books” drive from Georgia to New Jersey, with no questions asked about the cargo. Jack reluctantly accepts the deal, but begins to have second thoughts as soon as he arrives in Georgia to pick up his loaded rig. Red (Meat Loaf), Cutler’s partner, assigns Jack a driving partner (Randy Travis) and two armed escorts (Gabriel Casseus, Brian Vincent). Shortly after the four men drive off, however, Red orders other henchmen to follow — and to hijack the cargo.

This cues a long distance cat-and-mouse chase, as armed attackers driving everything from motorcycles to 18 wheelers try to force Jack off the road. It doesn’t take long for Jack to discover that, instead of hauling toilets, he’s really driving a truckload of AK 47s. “Black Dog” emphasizes stunt work more than suspense, though it does manage to generate a reasonable amount of the latter. When Jack phones Cutler to announce that he’s parking the truck and taking a hike, his boss retaliates by taking Jack’s wife and child as hostages, forcing our hero to steel his resolve and put the pedal to the metal. After a few more high speed smash-ups, the plot is neatly resolved with a predictable shootout aboard a cargo ship. But just to make sure that ticketbuyers get their money’s worth, Hooks tacks on a climactic encounter with a hard-to-kill villain.

Swayze steamrolls through the pic with his usual charismatic intensity. He makes a winning impression, even though the script gives him little opportunity for wisecracking. Travis provides a few amusing moments of playful self mockery as a good ol’ boy who wants to be a country music songwriter. Another singer turned actor, Meat Loaf, serves up generous portions of ham as a wild-eyed, Bible quoting bad guy.

Stunt coordinators Vic Armstrong and Gary Hymes offer some solid, if not spectacular, action sequences, while other tech contributions, particularly by lenser Buzz Feitshans IV and editors Debra Neil Fisher and Sabrina Plisco Morris, are on the mark. Of the many tunes on the CD ready soundtrack, Rhett Akins’ spirited new version of Eddie Rabbit’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” is the standout.

Black Dog

  • Production: A Universal release of a Mutual Film Co. presentation of a Prelude Pictures production. Produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, Peter Saphier, Mark W. Koch. Executive producers, Mace Neufeld, Robert Rehme, Gary Levinsohn, Mark Gordon. Co producers, Hester Hargett, Susan Solomon. Directed by Kevin Hooks. Screenplay, William Mickelberry, Dan Vining.
  • Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Buzz Feitshans IV; editors, Debra Neil Fisher, Sabrina Plisco Morris; music, George S. Clinton; production designer, Victoria Paul; art directors, Ken Hardy, Randall Richards; costume designer, Peggy Stamper; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby digital), Mary Ellis; assistant director, John Hockridge; second unit directors/stunt coordinators, Vic Armstrong, Gary Hymes; second unit camera, Michael A. Benson; supervisor of mechanical and physical effects, Kit West; casting, Elisabeth Rudolph. Reviewed at the Cinemark Tinseltown Westchase Cinema, Houston, April 30, 1998. MPAA Rating: PG 13. Running time: <b>88 MIN.</b>
  • With: Jack Crews - Patrick Swayze Red - Meat Loaf Earl - Randy Travis Sonny - Gabriel Casseus Wes - Brian Vincent Melanie - Brenda Strong Cutler - Graham Beckel Agent McClaren - Stephen Tobolowsky Agent Ford - Charles Dutton Tracy - Erin Broderick
  • Music By: