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Black Dog: Swayze's new face and woeful 90's career path

posted by Mickey on 7/12/02

Hi Mickey, Lots of love from a big rig rolling man. Thanks for all your kind words and support. I would be happy to come and watch you play netball any time, unlike that snob, Keanu. PS. Your message was a bit smudged at the end- did you say something about how we should be together?

Patrick Swayze

When I was a young boy, on the road between my parents' house and the nearest shopping centre there was a house with two trucks almost always parked outside and every time we passed these rigs I would announce, "When I grow up, I am going to be a truck driver."

Things didn't work out for me. I grew up, but I never got a driver's licence. The closest thing I have ever had to my own wheels is a J D Razor scooter. The scooter craze is well and truly over now, but I can remember when everybody in town was blading around on one of those things, thinking they looked as sharp as paint. It must have been 2000 when the craze was at its height. That was the year I was running quite a large-scale football tipping competition. One of the components of the competition was that participants could tip on who was going to win the Brownlow Medal, which is the equivalent of the MVP award for Australian Football. The rule for tipping on who would win the medal was that those who had done worst during the home and away season could take the first pick at who would win the Brownlow. The bookmakers' favourite to win it in 2000 was the Carlton midfielder, Anthony ("Kouta") Koutoufides, generally speaking a great thundering dud of a player, but one with enough physical presence to gather a lot of possessions and be reasonably damaging in attack during that season. Naturally, he was snapped up almost instantly as the selection of the weakest tipster, but I wouldn't have tipped him anyway and as it turned out, he didn't win. I went loyally for the Sydney Swans' graceful half-forward-flanker, Mickey O'Loughlin, who also didn't win, but polled well.* Anyway, interest in the Brownlow count, and in my tipping contest, was clearly hotting up because the night before the Brownlow was presented, I was riding my J D Razor down Parramatta Road, when someone from a passing vehicle threw a soft drink tin at me to get my attention and shouted, "Get off Kouta, you fucking wanker!" I waved at the well-wisher, but there wasn't time to let him know that I wouldn't have tipped the boofy Carlton heart throb even if I had had a priority selection. Oh yeah, those were the days. Happy times. I am so glad now I ate that madeleine cake. I still ride my scooter, by the way. Now, where was I?

Anthony Koutoufides: no Brownlow for this Adonis

Although I didn't become a trucker (which is probably as much a source of disappointment to the trucking industry as it has been a personal regret) I do feel a sense of community with the knights of the highway who haul those big rigs down the lonesome roads, blowing black smoke to the sky. Lordy, let those big wheels sing for me. For a start, I had many entertaining conversations with truckers when I was Kerouac-ing up and down the highways of my continent as a young man in search of experience, not confined to, although invariably encompassing, observations on the relative merits of the Ford and Mack engines

Secondly, I love trucking music with a fierce and indomitable passion. As far as I am concerned there isn't much American music recorded in the last 40 years that can hold a candle to, say, Dave Dudley's Golden Wing recordings, and, seriously, if you were to put me on a desert island, I would want a library of trucking music to come with me while I tried to figure out how to make a CD player out of sand and hook it up to an electricity source. The easiest answer would be to bring a CD I bought a few years ago for $4.95 called "Country on the Move". The best $4.95 I ever spent. It features the King of Trucking Country, Dave Dudley, doing an alternative (and probably even better) version of "Six Days on the Road," than the 1962 version, featuring Jimmy Covald's insanely funky guitar (I swear to God, that guy could have played with George Clinton's Parliament, and he would have fitted right in, except sartorially) and a couple of lesser, but still good songs ("There Ain't No Easy Run" and "Keep on Trucking"). It has a bunch of Red Sorvine songs, Faron Young's version of "King of the Road" (similar, but not inferior to Roger Miller's reading), Hank Locklin doing "Flying South" in his beautiful corn-crake voice and Johnny Dollar doing "Big Wheels Singing for Me," not to mention Mac Wiseman's "18 Wheels Humming Home" (full of beautiful bended notes, a lovely maudlin fiddle break, and a lyric which just must been the partial inspiration for the great Tom Waits' song, "Diamonds on my Windshield") as well as more famous artists like Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson.

I have pretty catholic taste in music. I like lots of stuff over a wide variety of genres. I am not saying trucking music is the best music there is, but I will say it probably is the most under-appreciated body of work in American popular music over the last 50 years.

Dave Dudley: not only the King of Trucking Country, but a Vince McMahon forbear to boot

Thirdly, I love trucking movies. All other things being equal, the fact that a movie has trucks in it isn't a guarantee that I am going to like it, but it is one of those features (like, say, the fact that a movie is about baseball, or is set in Pittsburgh, or stars Jennifer Connelly) that gives it a flying start in attracting my entertainment dollar. I would say that two of my very favourite movies of all time (i.e. "The Wages of Fear" and "Mad Max II" aka "The Road Warrior") are truck movies, and there are plenty of other good ones (eg. "Convoy", "Duel", "Road Games"), as well as plenty of stinkers, usually starring Burt Reynolds.

Which brings me, finally, to "Black Dog," where the trucking movie meets the man of the hour, Patrick Swayze.

Is it any good? Well, it is not too bad. It is not "Point Break," by a long stretch, but, as regular readers of this site would know, I would say the same thing about most of those alleged masterpieces by Tartakowsky, Fassbinder, Goddard, Kurosawa and Bertolucci and so forth, that clutter up the foyers of revival cinemas and generally give people a headache. You might say an opportunity was missed, given that all those trucks were there on the set, to make a movie based on the song "Six Days on the Road," the starting point of which would have been the song's opening lines:

Well I pulled out of Pittsburgh, rolling down that eastern seaboard

The way I see the film developing, Patrick Swayze would be the trucker trying to get a big baseball game in New Orleans. He would pick-up a hitchhiker at a truckstop diner (Jennifer Connelly) and in-between popping amphetamines and passing everything in sight, despite the limited manoeuvrability that 18 wheels and a trailer-load of steel ought by rights to impose, he would stop her from un-buttoning her shirt any further by explaining his code to her:

It seems like a month since I kissed my baby goodbye.
I could have a lot of women, but I'm not like a some of those guys.
I could find one to hold me tight,
But I could never make believe its all right.
Six days on the road and I'm a-gonna make it home tonight.

Well, that is a project for the future. The plot of the actual "Black Dog" establishes that Swayze is a grease monkey in New Jersey who used to be a trucker but lost his licence when he went to prison. The name of Swayze's character is Jack Crews. I didn't bother to take in the names of most of the other characters, so I will refer to this character as Swayze throughout, so none of those other guys get jealous (plus, I just love typing the word, "Swayze" and, in fact, have to watch myself to keep from breaking into caps every time I do it). SWAYZE's Swayze's boss offers him a ridiculously large sum of money, if he will agree to drive a truck from Georgia to Jersey. Swayze, a straight arrow, turns him down until he remembers a mortgage payment about to fall due that had completely slipped his mind, what with being in the clink and everything. Swayze decides to take the job on after all, establishing that he is a suicidal idiot. Honestly, you wouldn't have to be Stephen Hawking to work out that if this wasn't a perilous job, his boss would have opened a telephone directory or telephoned the teamster's union or something, and found a driver with a licence without too much bother.

That is central implausibility #1.

Implausibility rating: 6/10. Why the hell Swayze's character becomes involved remains a mystery.

But would Stephen Hawking look this good behind the wheel, eh?

After flying down to Georgia, he meets up with the guy running the operation at that end, Meatloaf. Anyone who has seen many Meatloaf movies would know that he is usually cast as a driver himself, perhaps most memorably as the driver of the double decker bus in "Spice World." What follows is the kind of the dialogue that you can just tell the writer was really proud of, but that wouldn't necessarily be worth quoting if I wasn't trying to build some dramatic tension before revealing the next central implausibility of the film and if I wasn't just itching to write the name Swayze in big caps a few times:

MEATLOAF. You the driver to New Jersey?

SWAYZE. That's me.

MEATLOAF. Got a name?

SWAYZE. Jack Crews.

[A couple of grease monkeys start banging away on a nearby vehicle]

MEATLOAF. "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares": Isaiah 2, verse 4. You read your Bible?

SWAYZE. Probably not as much as I should.

MEATLOAF. You try to live a good life?

SWAYZE. When I can.

Before the movie has gone on for another fifteen minutes, we are going to learn that Meatloaf is hell-bent on hijacking the cargo of the truck, which, I may as well reveal here, is illegal artillery. He puts himself to no-end of trouble, and gets about a dozen people killed in the process. And here is the insane thing: he doesn't need to hijack the goddamn cargo since HE ALREADY HAS IT before he sends Swayze and a team of conversation-makers onto the road.

That is central implausibility #2.

Implausibility rating: 10/10. Meatloaf must be one of the most stupid villains ever to grace a feature film. Boss Hogg wouldn't have done anything this dumb if "The Dukes of Hazzard" had lasted for 20 seasons..

Don't frown at me, mate. It is stupid.

I mentioned the conversation starters. Well, one of the things about a truck movie is, if you want to have much dialogue going on, you need to have some people to have dialogue with, so Swayze gets someone assigned to sit in the cabin with him, on chinwagging duty (country music star Randy Travis), and since the dialogue between these two might get repetitive, another couple of other minor characters tag along in a sedan, so they can swap places with Randy Travis at various points. In my notes I record Randy Travis as CRACKER 1, the next minor character as CRACKER 2 and the other minor character as TBG (token black guy). The presence of Randy Travis is a surely a nod to all those awful singing stars who used to be cast as the ingenues in John Wayne films. There used to be a standard joke in those films where Pat Boone or Johnny Alamo or whoever would try his hand at singing at some point and he would be terrible. Not the funniest joke ever made. Well, if the director of Black Dog (I don't know who that is- Henry Someone, I think. I knew I shouldn't have taken the video back to the shop without getting all the information off the back) resisted the temptation to make this same joke about Randy Travis, he didn't resist it stubbornly enough. I will say, though that the music on the soundtrack isn't half-bad. There are even a couple of sequences where Swayze flashes back to the vehicular manslaughter incident that put him into jail, which are signalled by the appearance of a bit of "The Devil Came Down to Georgia" style- fiddle music on the soundtrack. Good stuff.

We have just gotten through the Randy Travis can not sing for peanuts schtick when a red car appears on the highway ( I had no sooner clapped eyes upon it, than I christened it the General Lee) and tries to take out the sedan. A good action sequence follows, with Swayze managing to immolate the General Lee, much to the fury of Meatloaf, whose villainy and stupidity are now revealed. These action sequences are the heart of the film. There is a further assault on Swayze and his conversational group by a convoy of trucks, who unwisely attempt to hem in Swazye et al. as the trucks all hurtle along the side of a mountain. When one truck has gone tumbling down the mountainside, the duel continues down the road along into a village, where Swayze entices one of his 18-wheeled opponents to crash into a mobile-site, and performs a little matador-like trick to send another hurtling into a tanker-ful of high octane petroleum.

Yet another attack on the truck is launched by a bunch of guys on motorcycles. Sure. If the Dukes of Hazzard can't get them, why not send in C*H*I*P*S? In the course of repelling this assault, the sedan is totalled and the token black guy takes a bullet from which he expires, but not before revealing to Swayze that he is an FBI agent. ( He doesn't say, "This is your wake-up call, Bodhi. I am an FBI Agent," although I wish to God he had).

Randy Travis, Meatloaf and Swayze looking out to see what gross implausibility will be coming along next

Meanwhile, Swayze's family (1 wife, 1 daughter) have been kidnapped, as a surety for the safe delivery of the guns. Swayze arranges for a double cross that I will not go into in any great detail, but which all-in-all, represents Central Implausibility #3. It is only be the purest good fortune his family manage to survive.

Implausibility rating: 4/10. Maybe he doesn't like his family too much. Even when they are rescued, the scene in the end, when he lets a black pit bull terrier lick his daughter's face, doesn't argue much for this parental instincts.

There are more implausibility running through "Black Dog," but I don't want to pan the movie too severely, because the fact of the matter is that I enjoyed it. Sure, it has the soul of a straight-to-video release, and the only words that got it a theatrical release are PATRICK SWAYZE, but within its own terms it is a pretty entertaining movie. It is also the last time Swayze has appeared on a big screen anywhere near me. What happened? The guy had a career. I did not want to see "City of Joy" any more than the next fellow, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have queued up with everyone else to see "Ghost II" or "Dirty Dancing II" or "Point Break II" or, really, anything similar. (In fact, I saw all those movies, but they didn't have those names and they didn't star Patrick Swayze). Patrick, the Silver Screen has been a poorer place for your absence. Come back. Actually, I understand that there are fresh Swayze projects in the works and the sooner they arrive at a screen near me, the better.

Hey Mickey,I just drank a fifth of vodka. I'm sitting next to Randy Travis. Do you dare me to drive over the bridge? PS. That's just my initials, I have nothing to add, although, now you mention it, how am I going to get this out?

Patrick Swayze


* Shane Woewoden of the Melbourne Demons won the Brownlow medal in 2000, but failed to gain selection in the All-Australian team.

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