Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dolph-tastic: Blackjack (1998)

Who does not love Dolph Lundgren as the big Russian from Rocky IV? We all do, right? But it is important to note that he has made numerous other films since then, not all of them good. Do you recall The Punisher? How about Silent Trigger, Bridge of Dragons or The Sweeper? I bet you're drawing a blank. Don't worry about it, since most of Dolph's action films from the 1990s are the epitome of 'sleeper films' That's a nice way of saying that they did not do well, by the way. Cut to 1998, a year that he did not have a hit film either. Around this time, another man was not having a good decade- John Woo. His transition to American cinema was not without its hiccups, including Broken Arrow and Face/Off did not live up to their hype. There was a three year gap before he made another major film: Mission: Impossible 2. Did you ever wonder what he did in that time period? Well, unless you were his stalker (hi, Steve), you might be surprised that he made a television pilot called...
The, I mean, film involves Dolph Lundgren being called in for a favor by an old friend. Before we find out what, he demonstrates a curious skill: being able to cut a neck tie with a playing card. Thanks...that will come in handy, um, never. The man is doing some vague business in Las Vegas and is worried that his family may come into some sort of trouble because of it. Here's a thought: don't do it! Instead, he hires Dolph to keep them safe. It's alright- I'm sure that he's just worrying about noth...oh, their house is under attack by armed thugs. Good call on hiring the blond death machine, sir! During the battle, he gets blinded by a flash bang, which is incredibly common place in the arsenal of any non-military person. Stuck protecting the little girl while blind, Dolph makes the best of things. As a side note, this girl is oddly-calm about directing someone to kill armed thugs in her house. All of this is just a foot-note to the greatest moment in the history of gun-fu. Dolph guides the mother and daughter to the most logical escape route: an open window leading to a giant trampoline in front of the pool. Thank God they live at the Ringling Brothers' house. Both of them exit in a grand fashion, but the real show-off is Dolph. He leaps out, spins around as he bounces back up and fires twin hand guns at a group of thugs that are in pursuit. Convinced that it's a John Woo film now?
I'll be honest with you: nothing you see after that stunt will be as cool. In spite of that, I will continue. We do a bit of a time jump and get set up in the film's new plot: Dolph keeping an eye on the kid from earlier. He also has a butler, played by character actor Saul Rubinek. He has an eye-patch...and some character traits that are easily forgettable. Making Rubinek not be memorable in a role is a feat that few films achieve- congrats! The key thing to pick up here is the affliction that is affecting our hero: leukophobia. For those of you without knowledge of obscure phobias or access to, this is the fear of the color white. That's right- our big, manly-man is afraid of the color white. Why? Um...they really don't explain. It is supposed to have something to do with being blinded by the flash bang, but I don't quite understand the connection. Everybody survived this encounter, so why the phobia? Also, Dolph wears a white shirt in at least once scene after this reveal. I could go on about this all day, but there is a plot to cover...sort of.
Basically, Dolph is called back into action to protect a hot model who has a crazed stalker. The man can dispatch gun-wielding thugs while blind, but one crazy guy is supposed to be a threat. Yeah, this movie sort of falls apart in the third act, doesn't it? Dolph fights and saves the day. How was this supposed to be a show exactly?
This is not a bad movie, but it is also not exactly all that good. Dolph does an alright job and the directing is competent. The problem is that it is not exactly all that memorable. As terrible as it is, the death of the young whale scene in Orca is etched into my brain over ten years later. This, not so much. A couple of funny things happened besides the whole trampoline thing, but those were all due to the people I was watching it with. The best is the horribly inappropriate/hilarious comment made during an 'emotional' scene where Dolph is talking to the girl about her dead father. He said, "Maybe your father is in Heaven...with popcorn." It was just so bizarre, random and hilarious that I remember it more than most of the movie's plot! John Woo, you can do so much better than this. A lot of your more recent films don't prove that, but I still believe!
Next up, we venture over to Thailand to see a curious mix of weepy drama, family conflict and girl-fighting. You've got to be curious now, don't you? Stay tuned...

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