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Black Dog, Family Name, Little Men, Woo.

By Ray Pride, Sam Jemielity, Ellen Fox

MAY 11, 1998: 

Black Dog

What's in the back of Patrick Swayze's Peterbilt eighteen-wheeler? "Toilets," says Red, a Bible-quoting truck yard owner played one-dimensionally by Meat Loaf. "Five-gallon flush." There's lots of this redneck poetry in "Black Dog," and a few good action sequences, but it's not enough to make the movie worth it, except maybe for true fans of Swayze or the genre (guilty on both counts, by the way). Swayze plays Jack Crews, a trucker who lost his license and did time in prison after he zoned out on a long trip and drove his eighteen-wheeler into a disabled vehicle, killing a woman. He saw "the black dog" that tragic night: when truckers push too hard and drive too long, as Crews' fellow trucker Earl (Randy Travis, goofily endearing as a wannabe country singer) explains midway through, "the black dog comes to take everything away from you." Sure enough, the bank is about to foreclose on Crews' house. So Crews signs on to haul one load of contraband (there's guns in them there toilets) up from Georgia, earn $10,000, and fly the straight and narrow-if he doesn't get killed first. Cutler (Graham Beckel) is a slimy, mildly amusing adversary, but what this movie really lacks is the truly psychopathic villainy of, say, Gary Oldman or Dennis Hopper or the late, lamented J.T. Walsh in "Breakdown," with its smashing tractor-trailer-as-weapon climactic twist that tops all the pyrotechnics of "Black Dog." Brian Vincent and Gabriel Casseus have some good lines as a pair of gun-runners; Stephen Tobolowsky and Charles Dutton play a detective duo whose tiring, movie-long New Age shtick sets up one marginal joke. Like a long ride through the Midwest, "Black Dog" offers moments of entertainment, but too many long stretches where you start rustling in your seat. (Sam Jemielity)

Family Name

Macky Alston's documentary follows a similar route as Edward Ball's recent exploration, "Slaves in the Family" (Farrar Straus). A Southerner, growing up, hears distant tales of a slave-owning past, and once grown, wants to know the truth. Alston's is the more compelling work, with the 31-year-old filmmaker traveling from Durham, North Carolina, where he was born, across New York and Alabama, seeking out African-Americans who share his family name. Alston also comes out as gay during the course of the film, a secret that his family had asked him not to share with anyone else back home. The material is so rich you'd swear Alston made it up, but it's compelling for that very reason: a good answer always prompts another question, then another. 89m. (Ray Pride)

Little Men

A choppy, grainy Canadian production of the Louisa May Alcott tale in which a mature Jo (Mariel Hemingway) and her husband run Plumfield School for Boys, where the kids get to call the pair by their first names and blow off steam in carefully supervised pillowfights. But when the Boston streetfriend of their newest, wide-eyed classmate shows up, punches and knives are thrown. It doesn't amount to much more than a vehicle for young Ben Cook who, as the mischeivous, defensive Dan, looks very much like "Clockwork Orange"'s Alex in a ragged bowler and walking stick while simultaneously exuding the alluring precocity that was so unsettling in Christina Ricci. (Ellen Fox)


Bob Hoskins is the tender heart of "TwentyFourSeven," the debut feature of 24-year-old English wunderkind Shane Meadows. Shot in a black-and-white of brute elegance, Meadows' movie traces the rise and fall of Alan Darcy, a man in an unnamed Midlands town who starts a boxing club to try to round up the angry young men in the surrounding housing estates. As embodied by compact Cockney Hoskins, Darcy is a fierce, even visionary force whose impact on the boys' lives resounds through a remarkably funny and heartbreaking final scene. The 55-year-old Hoskins began his own career as a lark, following a friend into an audition while drunk, and found Meadows a kindred spirit. While only 24 now, Meadows made about thirty short films with a videocorder after leaving school at age 15. "[Producer] Steve Wooley sent me one of these videos and, this is extraordinary, this is from the street, by the street, for the street! This is the real thing. I said, 'This kid ought to be encouraged.' He said, 'well, we're backing him for a full-length feature, and the thing is, he's written it for you.' I thought, 'Aw, I walked straight into that one!' Thanks, pal!" Hoskins felt an immediate kinship with the kid from project housing after reading his script, but then, as he say, "In he walked, he's sort of five-foot-six, cubic-like, box-shaped, with a shaved head, and, 'There's my boy! Yeah! Us cubes stick together! The kid's gotta be a genius!'" (Ray Pride)


Here's a world where the men are horny D-A-W-Gs and the women set 'em straight with crass humiliation. It's a Manhattan in which car alarms blurt "Step away from the car, motherfucker!", Billy Dee Williams emerges like a love prophet from the mist of a dingy precinct house, and one very special young man-bent on a night of sexual exploration-tears himself away from a bucket of fried chicken, dresses up in fuchsia pimp-daddy regalia and urges his girlfriend to climb on him and cluck like a "chicken ho." Not a single "Go on, girl!" (or "Woo!", for that matter) escaped my lips during this latest incarnation of the blind-date-from-hell genre, though I admit to cracking up at some of the more ingenious insults. Jada Pinkett Smith plays "Woo," a party girl whose face is revealed only after the opening credits sequence shows her pink-clad tits and booty ogled by countless men as she bounces across town to consult with her transvestite psychic. Woo is skeptical when the psychic tells her that love is close at hand: "[ital]Lamar[ital]? I can't wear a beeper for [ital]him[ital]!" But in an effort to get her out of the house so they can screw that night, Woo's friends foist her onto law student Tim, who, seconds before that life-changing phone call, is shown reaching into the darkness of his unzipped pants, swept away for a moment by the pelvic thrusts of a TV aerobics program. Sick, silly Woo shows up and leads pencil-necked Tim through all the familiar contours of urban mishap-car theft, mugging, punches in the face, irreparable humiliation of his friends. Even the requisite solitary reminiscence in the taxi-when Woo smiles to herself, lost in a musical montage of their adventures that night, realizing her love for him-gets tainted with irony: the cab fare runs about forty bucks. Disappointingly, Pinkett Smith displays only one mode of comic delivery: sarcastic eye-fluttering and tight, stretch-lipped smirks. Too bad I couldn't have watched "Woo" at night with my gang of sassy, cheering girlfriends, all of us loaded up on booze and blunts. (Ellen Fox)

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