Posted by: playingthedevil | December 1, 2011

blackjack (1998)

in between face/off and mission:impossible:2, john woo directed dolph lundgren in the tv movie blackjack. it was made as a tv pilot but didn’t get pick up and it premiered on the usa network in 1998 as a tv movie.

dolph plays an ex-marshal turned bodyguard who after the opening action sequences, or maybe something from his childhood, becomes allergic to the color white, kind of like BRUCE in the color of night, except white instead of red. after his friends are killed off screen, he got custody of their daughter (padraigin murphy). his ex-marshal friend fred williamson, who now runs a protection agency, gets shot while protecting a model (model kam heskin from the prince and me 2, 3, & 4) and is in a coma. of course, dolph ends up having to do everything himself and save everyone.

the dolph/john woo combo is the main selling point here, though it helps to keep in mind that it’s by and large a tv movie. i’m also pretty sure that it would have been disappointing had i watch this post-face/off.

in other words, the action scenes here are few and far between, and on smaller scales. there are the typical opening, middle, and climatic action sequences. they are okay for a tv movie but mostly look like low budget john woo, which is what the movie is. the best sequence is actually the opening, which involve a trampoline and a blind dolph directed by the kid on his back, kind of an updated killer. it may not be signature john woo, but at least it’s along the lines of 80s hong kong action.

though there are definitely some woo elements. there’s the smooth jazz as in hard boiled. more time are spent between dolph and adopted kid, touched upon in face/off. there’s the slow mo, trench coats, and sunglasses (though there’s an obvious reason this time). there’s the sniper scene reminiscent of the killer and the beginning of face/off. there’s the dance sequence and motorcycles in the middle that later appear in m:i:ii. dolph’s jack devlin also uses playing cards as blades (a jack and an ace, blackjack, get it?), which woo had chow yun fat do in the overlooked/underrated once a thief (the movie, not the tv show).

at times it feels more like a john woo-ish movie rather than an actual john woo movie, fortunately dolph gets more of a chance to shine. i was pretty impressed after the die hard-ish command performance, which he co-wrote and directed. unlike his more popular hollywood movies (rocky iv, universal soldiers, the expendables), dolph gets to play a slicker, cooler character. he also gets more dialogues and one-liners rather than merely a monosyllabic muscle man. jack devlin is more like the shadow or the saint type suave hero instead of a cyborg or vaguely all purpose european. he’s just about as good at spouting one-liners as arnold, which already makes him better than jcvd. in fact, i think he’s better and less painful than arnold in his scenes with the kid. he gets to show sides of him that we don’t usually see in his dtv action movies. we get to see him dance, do magic, taking care of the kid, and do some chiropractic work masquerading as a sex scene.

while woo and dolph more or less survive unscathed, the same can’t be said about the villain played by phillip mackenzie. this sniper/stalker guy has to be seen to be believed. we are eventually told that he’s a failed doctor, but he is also shown to be a pretty good artist, a failed actor, and a pretty decent fighter. though it may not have been a fair fight since his fight with dolph coincidentally takes place in a milk/white paint factory, it’s like someone somehow knew that dolph’s character is allergic to the color white. they also decided to give him a southern accent. i’m no expert on dialects but it doesn’t sound like mackenzie has one in real life, which makes it more baffling since they could have made up a random non-region specific area for the character’s origin.

they also laid on his “crazy” pretty thick by having a single tear during his first sniping attempt, keeping a butterfly in a mason jar in another killing attempt, and my favorite would have to be the scenes inside his actor studio…it happens pretty late in the movie so i won’t spoil it, let’s just say he goes through quite a bit of trouble and decorations and set designs. must be a method actor.

there are many things i like in the movie (i haven’t even mentioned the great saul rubinek, with an eye patch and accent, as alfred to dolph’s batman), mostly the stuff in the margins, it doesn’t add up to much as a whole. it actually gets kind of boring in the middle dealing with the back-stories and the main plot. like many dtv movies, it has way more characters than necessary and the plot is needlessly convoluted. i don’t know if it’s the fault of the original screenplay or the fact that john woo did not get to take part in the editing (according to this book), either way, it probably would have worked better with the usual 90 mins runtime instead of the current 113 mins.

nevertheless, blackjack isn’t a total…bust (teehee). i guess it depends on how you go into it. i was kind of on the fence on hard target. that one has a more simplistic story and basic b-movie narrative but blackjack has more quirky wtf elements and lesser action scenes. they are both kind of a…push.

as with most miramax/dimension movies, it was re-released by echo bridge entertainment last year. you can get it for about $5.

make sure you check out comeuppance reviews, who just did a month of dolph movies.

the video vacuum will be doing a chow yun fat edition of the legends of the silver screen, which will include two john woo movies.

vern’s review of blackjack

the video vacuum’s review of blackjack







  1. A TV pilot was the wrong medium for a pairing as perfect as Dolph and Woo. This really needed to be a $40 million big screen affair. The opening scenes work, but then it turns into your basic Made for TV action crap REAL fast. Thanks for the advance plugs. I’m also going to get to Woo’s Bullet in the Head sometime this week too.

  2. Glad to see some love being given to this mostly overlooked(and neglected)and very cool Dolph Lundgren-starring John Woo film.

  3. I had a lot of fun with this one. Either you love this kind of thing or don’t, and I definitely did.

  4. i think i adjusted my expectation accordingly after realizing that it’s a cable tv movie. yeah the action scenes were disappointing but it was also john woo before paycheck and windtalkers. and i love what dolph gets to do in the movie, and all the quirky almost-wtf elments in it, which we don’t often see in neither woo nor dolph movies.

    i haven’t seen bullet in the head since the 90s. i need to see it again, i think i was too young to appreciate it.

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