Movie Project #11: Road House [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Road House [1989]

Road House [1989]
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Writers: Hilary Henkin, David Lee Henry
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara
Running Time: 114 minutes

Pain don’t hurt.

Even though this year’s project is stacked with acclaimed films, I don’t know if there was anything I was looking forward to more than the incomparable Road House. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while now should know how much I love bad (or so bad they’re good) movies. There’s something to be said about shutting off your brain and just going with the flow, embracing cheesy acting and terrible dialogue as the delectable pieces of junk food they are. I’m happy to report that Road House is every bit as awesome (and awful) as I had heard.

Patrick Swayze, still riding the wave of success from Dirty Dancing, stars as a professional cooler (aka bouncer) named Dalton. He has built up a reputation as being the best in the business, and he is hired by businessman Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to clean up his bar called the Double Deuce. It’s an absolute pigsty of a nightclub, and it is home to many of the bottomfeeders of society. Its patrons are loud and short-tempered, and every other minute a huge bar fight breaks out. The poor house band even has to play behind a cage to avoid being hit with thrown beer bottles. The current wave of bouncers (including pro wrestler Terry Funk!) will throw out those who get particularly unruly, but they’re generally content with the unstable atmosphere.

Road House [1989]

Enter: Dalton. He immediately clears out the staff members that refuse to play by his rules (one of which is simply to be nice) and begins overhauling the business. Problems arise when Dalton fires a bartender who has ties to the local business mogul, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Wesley has his finger in seemingly every business in town, and he wants to keep things the way they are. He does his best to make Dalton’s life miserable, though Swayze plays him like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Along the way, Dalton gets a love interest, Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), and some backup support from his longtime buddy and veteran cooler, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott). When Garrett shows up, the film gets more and more violent, lending itself to some wildly entertaining barfights. Naturally, there’s a huge showdown at the end that becomes the centerpiece of the entire movie. It is here where Wesley’s top henchman, Jimmy (Marshall Teague), makes one of the most awkward threats imaginable (“I used to fuck guys like you in prison!”) before succumbing to Dalton’s wicked throat punch (it has to be seen to be believed). At this point, the film has its foot on the gas and culminates with an epic finale at Wesley’s personal mansion. To give you an idea of just how utterly ridiculous this becomes, take note that the last words mentioned in the film are “A polar bear fell on me.”

Road House [1989]

But this imbecility is what makes Road House so much fun. Swayze kicks a bunch of ass, Gazzara hams it up as the main villain, buildings get destroyed, characters find excuses to fight over anything, and Sam Elliott gets to show off his pubic hair. Wait… scratch that last part, that’s something I wish I did not see. Ditto for Patrick Swayze’s belly button (some things just cannot be unseen).

Is Road House great cinema? Not in the slightest. But it’s a damn fun film, and sometimes that’s all that matters.