Should I Watch..? 'Road House'
What's the big deal?
Road House is an action thriller film released in 1989 and marks only the second time in the director's chair for Rowdy Herrington. The film stars Patrick Swayze as a bouncer at a notorious roadside bar who finds trouble following him wherever he goes. The film also stars Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott and Ben Gazzara. The film didn't exactly change the world when it was released - critics were largely unimpressed by the film's levels of violence and romantic subplot while it also scooped up five nominations at that year's Razzie Awards. Audiences were also unimpressed as the film limped to domestic takings of just $30 million. However, the film has become something of a cult hit in the years since which lead to rumours of a possible sequel starring UFC fighter Ronda Rousey in 2015.
What's it about?
James Dalton works as a professional 'cooler' at a bar in New York, a specialist bouncer who is eager to escape a shady past. He is contacted by investor Frank Tilghman who plans to turn around the fortunes of a bar in Jasper, Missouri - the Double Deuce. In order to protect his investment, Tilghman wants Dalton to ply his trade at the bar and Dalton agrees, moving to the remote rural community and struggling to fit in.
After a particularly rough night at the Deuce, Dalton is stabbed by patrons loyal to local business magnate Brad Wesley and gets sent to the hospital. Developing a friendship with Dr Elizabeth "Doc" Clay, Dalton soon learns that Wesley has the town of Jasper in his pocket and has no desire to see Tilghman revive the Deuce's fortunes. As Wesley's men begin to interfere with the running of the bar, Dalton begins to realise that his job involves a bit more than handling rowdy drunks...
Dr Elizabeth "Doc" Clay
Hilary Henkin & R. Lance Hill (credited as David Lee Henry)
Release Date (UK)
9th June, 1989
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Swayze), Worst Supporting Actor (Gazzara), Worst Screenplay, Worst Director
What's to like?
If you like drinking, fighting and other low-intelligence activities then Road House is probably more suited to you than it was me. This is as big and dumb as they come, serving up an endless stream of forgettable fight scenes and knuckle-dragging romantic moments that raise a smile with their awkwardness. The film does, however, make the most of its leading star - Swayze embodies the blend of charm, masculinity and power that the role demands as well as a smidge of humour, as though he knows how C-grade the material is. Considering this was just two years since the massive success of Dirty Dancing, it's no surprise Swayze traded his dancing moves for bare-knuckle boxing skills.
The film's other strength is its soundtrack courtesy of accomplished blind guitarist Jeff Healey, who plays the Deuce's bandleader Cody. The music is a bluesy rock kinda gig, perfectly in tune with the Middle American setting. Healey, who starred alongside his own band as the group of musicians based at the Double Deuce, overcame his blindness to become a gifted and distinctive musician in his own way with his guitar laying flat across his lap. While this film doesn't have much going for it, I do recommend you seek out its soundtrack because it's right up my street.
- Swayze injured his knee during filming, meaning he had to drop out of appearing in Tango & Cash and Predator 2. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise - deliberately seeking a less strenuous role, he was later cast in Ghost which became a huge hit.
- The scene where Dalton is lecturing the staff at the bar about "being nice" was reportedly being used by the NYPD as part of a training programme, apparently after officers were caught falling asleep during regular lectures.
- Although it didn't win any of its Razzie awards, the film does feature in Razzie founder John Wilson's book The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. It was also parodied by the TV show Family Guy as a tribute to Swayze who died in 2009.
What's not to like?
Action movies are often criticised for being dumb exercises in unwashed male machismo but few of them embody that approach quite like Road House does. It feels like a twisted male fantasy film where an enigmatic stranger rolls into town, beats up whoever he pleases and sleeps with whoever he wishes. It sounds low-brow but that is essentially what this film is about. Gazzara's villain feels like a very weak baddie compared to Swayze's all-round good guy (who seems to be invincible given the injuries he sustains) while Elliott's red-necked sensei feels underwritten and underused. As for Lynch, I felt sorry for her as she was trapped in the 'eye candy' role with very little to do.
The script is terrible, featuring dialogue so awful and unnatural that it recently popped up in my Top 20 Worst Lines Of Dialogue rundown. Swayze and Lynch, while looking good on screen, have little chemistry together and the film feels uneven and uninteresting. I never engaged with it - why should I care about these people who feel so far removed from normal society that it may as well have been set on the moon? It never feels real at any point and because it is essentially a violent cartoon of a film, it lacks the crucial element of danger that normally comes with action films like this. It's the classic Superman paradox - if Dalton is essentially immortal, what possible threat can a sleazy businessman pose to such an overpowered good guy? The film is a camp celebration of ultra-macho men with perfect haircuts scrapping their way into women's beds and these days, it feels as contemporary and cutting edge as a hoop and stick.
Should I watch it?
Swayze fans (mostly women, I expect) will swoon at the sight of their dream man losing his shirt and being ultra manly but action fans will only enjoy Road House as a cheap, throwaway flick with little to enjoy except the music. It feels like an ugly throwback to the Seventies with its macho leading actor, cowboy setting and poorly written narrative that doesn't offer anything new. Come for the music but don't stay too long, will you?
Great For: Swayze's ego, women of a certain age, fans of decent rock music, home commentaries, gay men?
Not So Great For: action fans, Swayze's health insurance, pushing the boundaries of cinema
What else should I watch?
Despite suggesting that Road House is a throwback picture designed to promote the machismo of its leading actor, it isn't the only example. I know a lot of women who fell for Jason Statham after his breakthrough action performance in The Transporter, an equally silly film that had frequent shots of Statham without a shirt. And I can still recall my late wife's reaction in the cinema to Daniel Craig emerging from the sea in Casino Royale, whispering to me that he was almost as sexy as me. Well, maybe not quite...
Probably the king of what I call country-and-western cinema is Burt Reynolds, thanks to his memorable performance in Smokey And The Bandit as the ultimate redneck renegade. But the hairy-lipped ladies man wasn't the only star - Clint Eastwood's memorable appearance in Every Which Way But Loose featured the icon starring opposite an orangutan called Clyde for reasons and despite being set in New York, Coyote Ugly offers plenty of music, good looking women in cowboy boots and daisy dukes and an uncomplicated narrative.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox