Retro Film Review: Blackjack (1998)

in #filmlast month

(source:tmdb.org)

Name of John Woo is today associated with Hollywood's most prestigious action blockbusters. So, when some of his titles appear in video stores before appearing in cinemas that means that they can only be works specifically made for televisions or films with quality usually associated with the phrase "straight to video". When Blackjack, John Woo's 1998 television film, was released in Croatia, the national distributor launched aggressive promotional campaign, including even clips of John Woo briefly addressing audience in Croatian. Due to some bitter experiences with films advertised in such manner, author of this review didn't expect much from Blackjack.

Protagonist of the film is Jack Devlin (played by Dolph Lundgren), former US Marshall who works as top bodyguard. While protecting Casey (played by Pardraigin Murphy), his friend's young daughter, Devlin gets temporarily blinded by stun grenade and develops irrational fear of anything white. Years later, after Casey's parents have died in car accident, he brings little girl to his home, taken care of by butler Thomas (played by Saul Rubinek). One day his old friend and former colleague Tim Hastings (played by Fred Williamson) gets wounded while protecting Cinder James (played by Kam Heskin), one of world's top fashion models. It seems that Cinder is targeted by someone only top professional like Devlin can deal with. That someone is Rory Gaines (played by Phillip McKenzie), psychotic failed actor who just happens to know how to deal with guns. While trying to protect the model, Devlin will have to face not only her demented stalker but also the demons of his own past.

Shot for relatively small amount of money and made as a pilot for TV series (that never materialised), Blackjack is burdened with many plot holes, implausibilities and script elements that defy logic and sometimes even insult viewers' intelligence. Their outrageousness, on the other hand, works in film's favour, lifting it from "bad" towards "so-bad-it-is-good" category. Viewers who approach Blackjack with low expectations and good spirits would be awarded with solid entertainment that has little do with John Woo's action scenes, Dolph Lundgren's limited acting abilities or his charismatic image. The best moments come in scenes where Peter Lance's script displays subtlety of the elephant in glass store. Kate Vernon playing psychiatrist who smokes huge cigar while discussing Freud is good example, but most come thanks to Phillip McKenzie who wonderfully overacts as psychotic villain, making the effective Kevin Spacey impersonation at the same time. At times it looks like a real shame that Blackjack didn't become TV series, but, on the other hand, it is difficult to imagine audience maintaining specific mental state required to truly enjoy this film.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on March 16th 2004)

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