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, John Doe, Kathleen Wilhoite, Kurt James Stefka, Gary Hudson, Terry Funk, Michael Rider, Keith David
18 | 1hr 54mins | Action, Thriller
Budget: $17,000,000 (estimated)
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.
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.
Roadhouse is an unlikely high point in the ’80s 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.
In the end, the spiritual Dalton loses his cool, abandoning his own 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 Wesley 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.
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!
A testosterone-fuelled thrill-ride of glorious stupidity, Road House gets the balance just right, while also having the distinction of being the only movie to give us a spiritually motivated, philosophical bouncer with nationwide notoriety. A wonderful slice of 80’s hokum which transformed the late Patrick Swayze into a male cultural icon.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut