Tagline: Dalton lives like a loner, fights like a professional. And loves like there’s no tomorrow.
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Writers: R. Lance Hill, Hilary Henkin
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lunch, Sam Elliot, Ben Gazzara, Marshall R. Teague, Julie Michaels, Red West, Sunshine Parker, Jeff Healey, Kevin Tighe
18 | 1hr 54mins | Action, Thriller
Budget: $17,000,000 (estimated)
When it comes to action stars, Patrick Swayze must be up there with the most unlikely of all. Perhaps most famous for his role as rebel dancer Johnny Castle in 1987‘s Dirty Dancing, he would also star in soppy mainstream hit Ghost alongside Demi Moore, where he played . . . well, a ghost, resulting in one of the most infamous clay-based scenes in modern cinema. Our heartthrob leading man would also have a brief pop career, performing the song She’s Like the Wind ― one of many hits to feature on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack ― thus winning the hearts of teenage girls the world over. Apparently, Pat’s hot stuff status caused all manner of problems during production, a raucous band of middle-aged admirers invading the star’s trailer in a pickup truck in the first of several onset incidents. One lovelorn extra struggled with simple stage directions while breathing in the same air of Swayze, actually tripping and spilling drinks over a colleague. In the end, the actor would have to hire bodyguards to keep the babes at bay. It must have been the mullet.
With this kind of female popularity, you could be forgiven for thinking Patrick was a one note wonder, but he would take on a few grittier projects in his lifetime, and actually starred in as many action movies as he did romantic comedies. Later in his career, he would admirably tackle meatier roles in movies such as Donnie Darko (2001) and Keeping Mum (2005), while his role as Darrel Curtis in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 cult classic The Outsiders displayed an actor who was more than just a pretty face. Swayze would also star in cult action movies such as surfer heist thriller Point Break (1991) and Red Dawn (1984), but his time as an action star will always be epitomised by one movie.
Road House is an unlikely high point in the action genre, one that puts the majority of Stallone and Schwarzenegger vehicles to shame. In the movie, Swayze plays Dalton, a spiritual drifter who earns his crust as a doorman, assuming the role of ‘cooler’ in the kind of hick nightclubs that have so many broken tables and chairs, the owners would have to operate a wholesale furniture operation just to break even. But Dalton is no ordinary thug-for-hire. In fact, he must be the only bouncer of nationwide fame on the entire planet, one who practices bare-chested meditation in-between cleaning house, and who only rams customers’ heads through tables when they draw weapons ― which just happens to be every night. Dalton also has a degree in philosophy, which goes at least some way to explaining why an improbably beautiful doctor (Kelly Lynch) falls for him after treating his wounds, her years of education failing to stand in the way of a primitive lust for mindless violence.
In one of the most contrived mainstream movies ever put to celluloid, it is no surprise when that doctor turns out to be the daughter of a local store owner named Red (Red West), a man Dalton has already charmed with his unassuming frankness and respectful use of the word ‘sir’. Nor is it a shock when we later find out that she is actually married and separated from local scourge Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), a megalomaniac who built his vast empire off the back of the local townsfolk, and who rules with an iron fist. When Dalton is recruited by bar owner Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to rid his establishment of Wesley’s yokel entourage, he immediately takes exception to the plight of the common man, recruiting super cool compadre Wade Garrett (Sam Elliot) as he sets about fixing things and winning the heart of Red’s daughter, who surprisingly enough turns a little cold when she sees Dalton live up to his mythical status by ripping out a man’s throat with his bare hands. Although she seems rather less perturbed by the fact that every single member of the female cast stares at him like a rapist, local tomboy-with-talent Carrie even gasping at the site of his bare ass as if laying eyes on the celestial wonders of the galaxy. It’s interesting to note that Annette Bening was originally cast at the Doc, before allegedly being fired for having a lack of onscreen chemistry with Swayze. I’m sure the movie’s infamous sex scene had more than a little to do with that decision.
Ironically, Swayze could have been even more synonymous with the action genre if it were not for his role in Road House; not because his performance was bad, but because an onset knee injury would force him to turn down movies such as Andrei Konchalovsky’s buddy cop flick Tango and Cash and ultra-violent sci-fi sequel Predator 2. Those roles instead went to Kurt Russel and Danny Glover, Swayze opting for the much less physically demanding Ghost. This would turn out to be a couple of bullets dodged (pun intended), since Ghost would bag itself two Oscars, beating the likes of Dances with Wolves, Pretty Woman and Home Alone to become the highest grossing box office smash of 1990. Fantastic for Swayze’s career, but if you’re an action fan, the thought of the actor going nose-to-nose with cinema’s dreadlocked marauder is a curious prospect we will sadly never see.
The thought of this may seem absurd to some of you, but Swayze was the real deal when it came to rough and tumble action, having been trained by kickboxing champion Benny Urquidez, who was actually an uncredited henchman in the film. Urquidez was a black belt in nine different disciplines of martial arts, which meant by the time the shoot was over, Swayze had been schooled in a plethora of deadly combat forms. These include street fighting, boxing, kickboxing, karate, jiujitsu, Taekwondo, hapkido, judo, and tai chi. So impressed with Swayze’s abilities was Urquidez that he actually pushed for the actor to become a competitive kickboxer. Still think you could take him on in real life? Thought not.
Road House is a whirlwind of action mayhem, the kind of production where everyone did their own stunts and ultimately paid the price. So hardcore was the shoot that Swayze famously claimed that he was worried he’d be able to finish with his life intact, and you can just imagine the close shaves he was subjected to in the late ’80s stunt arena. The action formula has evolved immensely since the days of cheap plywood sets and dodgy sound effects — just look at state of the art movies like the John Wick series — but one thing I miss is that aura of lawless mayhem, the sight of a stuntman coming perilously close to death or a thousand and one extras flying across the room with the kind of reckless abandon that is wrapped in yellow tape in 21st century cinema. That’s not to say stunts aren’t still incredibly dangerous, but they’re more expertly controlled, and CGI has come to shoulder much of the burden.
Road House is much more rough and ready, the Pale Rider of doormen movies, with Swayze as the calm and collected Preacher who strolls into town with the divine gift of ass whooping. It should come as no surprise that many of the movie’s characters share names with mythical figures from the wild west, though I’ll leave that one up to you to figure out. In the end, the spiritual Dalton inevitably loses his cool, abandoning his code of bouncer ethics as the all powerful Brad Wesley ramps up the stakes, but if the police really are in Wesley’s pocket as the townsfolk claim, then why doesn’t he just have Dalton arrested at the first sign of trouble? I mean, multiple murder should be enough of a reason to put the town drifter behind bars for good, right?
Sometimes you just have to switch off and embrace the silliness.
After Dalton’s new recruits end a game of Chinese whispers with the claim that he once ripped out a man’s throat, we begin to understand the extent of the job our protagonist has on his hands if he is to turn his backwoods employees into a sensible and effective outfit. But hold your horses! Later in the movie, when Dalton takes on Wesley’s most skilled fighter in a sweaty, topless battle by the riverside, Dalton does just that, leaving his throatless corpse floating with the reeds as his sweetheart watches on in disgust.
Most Absurd Moment
With the ever rowdy Double Deuce bar in full swing, a man offers another man the opportunity to kiss his gorgeous girl’s breasts in public for the mere price of twenty bucks. Naturally, the man accepts, only to begin fondling them like a serial rapist high on ether. After a while, the guy asks whether he is going to kiss his wife’s breasts or not. The man says he can’t ― he doesn’t have twenty bucks ― a revelation that results in the usual furniture-strewn mayhem.
So popular was the movie’s brand of ludicrous action that an even more ludicrous off-Broadway theatre production of Road House was produced as many as fifteen years later. The title of the play? Road House: The Stage Version Of The Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From The ’80s Cult Classic The Last Dragon (1985) Wearing A Blonde Mullet Wig
Suitably apt, I must say.
Most Absurd Dialogue
As Dalton and super thug Jimmy (Marshall R. Teague) feel each other out before battle, the dastardly villain predictably talks smack, unwittingly revealing something he maybe shouldn’t have.
Jimmy: [talking to a topless Dalton] I used to fuck guys like you in prison!