AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME:114 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
James Dalton is a professional ‘cooler’ (specialized doorman or bouncer] with a mysterious past who is enticed from his current job at a club in New York by Frank Tilghman to take over security at his club/bar, the Double Deuce, in Jasper, Missouri. Tilghman plans to invest substantial money into the club to enhance its image, and needs a first-rate cooler to maintain stability. Dalton dismisses several unruly and corrupt employees and begins to turn the Double Deuce into a nicer place. However, there is a problem. Some of the sacked employees are also employed by or connected with Brad Wesley, a local business magnate who appears to have a stranglehold on the town….
Though I tend not to go for this guy film/girl film stuff – a good film should be enjoyed by both sexes – when Patrick Swayze tragically died 2012, I reckon that women all over the world put on Ghost or Dirty Dancing, while quite a few blokes would have settled for Point Break or Road House. Road House isn’t the action masterclass that Point Break is, in fact it’s probably not that good a film at all, but I always have such a good time watching it. It’s an unashamedly trashy exercise, kind of an updated Western [right up to many of the characters being named after real-life Western personalities] garnished with as much 80’s cheese as possible, but knows it is. This is the kind of film which mostly takes place in a town which seems to only have two actual houses, one of them being a farmhouse, a couple of shops and a club, and yet it doesn’t matter because the thing is just so damn fun to watch. It features lots of vicious convincing brawls, lots of great corny dialogue, and a movie star who may never have been the best actor but who for me is definitely at his coolest as the bouncer who seems to not let anything ruffle him. This is the kind of film where, if you’re a man, you just want to be the hero in it.
Bearing no resemblance to the very fine 1948 film noir Roadhouse starring Ida Lupino, Road House’s story was supposedly inspired by the true story of a terrible man who was found killed but none of his neighbours owned up to it. The character of Dalton [his first name is James, though it’s never actually said in the movie] was named after the town of Dalton, Georgia, the film’s writer David Lee Henry having passed through Dalton and liking it so much he named the protagonist after it. Annette Benning was originally cast in the female lead role until replaced by Kelly Lynch. The shoot was very hard for Swayze, who suffered so many injuries that he told a reporter that he didn’t think he’d live through the production. He had to turn down Predator 2 because he was recovering. Very little of the film [mostly the scenes around the farmhouse] was actually filmed on location, the majority of it being shot in the studio. The original cut neared two and a half hours, and, while very little of the deleted footage has been made available, we know that some scenes between Dalton and the bartender Ernie were removed, as was a scene where Dalton makes the other bouncers don ballet outfits and dance as part of their training. There is also a picture showing Dalton fighting with Ketchum, the guy with the From Russia With Love-style knife-boot guy inside the Double Deuce, and it’s obviously a different fight than the one we see in the film. Surprisingly Road House was a commercial failure in cinemas though became a big hit on video. Swayze was asked to star in 2006’s straight to DVD Road House 2: Last Call, but left the project after ‘creative differences and the lead character was turned into Dalton’s son. It’s basically a weak remake.
For a film considered by some at the time to be excessively violent, the interesting thing is that Dalton doesn’t actually strike a punch until almost half an hour into it, and even then the joy of seeing of seeing him actually fight is held off for as long as possible. It’s like those Bruce Lee classics [and there is a distinct influence of The Way Of The Dragon in this film] where you know the hero is as tough as they come and can probably take everyone else in the room….even all at once….but the guy doesn’t actually enjoy fighting, doesn’t even do anything at all during the first two or three fights that we see, and the tension just builds and builds because you know that eventually he’s got to cut lose. After all, it’s all about being nice…..until it’s time to not be nice.
All you have to do is follow three simple rules.
One: Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.
Two: Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.
And Three: Be nice.
If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cock******, I want you to be nice.
Ask him to walk, be nice.
If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice.
If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you. And you’ll both be nice.
I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.
God I just love Swayze in this movie, simply exuding hardness and given lots of laconic Clint Eastwood-style lines to play with. Of course he does eventually kick ass in great fashion but, again much like those Lee movies, the film has its cake and eats it, staging lots of brutal fights for the audience’s enjoyment and revelling in the bashed-in faces, broken limbs and, in a shot originally missing in the UK version, even a neck being ripped out, but also spouting an anti-violence message. At least until the end, violence doesn’t really solve anything and just causes worse and worse repercussions, and Dalton certainly isn’t happy about being pushed to the limit. As well as being the best bouncer in the business, Dalton also has a Ph. D in philosophy from New York University and is capable of deep insights into his trade, such as: “In a fight, nobody wins”. I’m slightly mocking the movie in a way, and I’m not in any way suggesting that it’s especially intelligent, but there is some thought put into bits of the screenplay. The action highlight is a battle by a river [with a bad guy who spouts the immortal line: “I used to **** guys like you in prison” in a film where its star is topless throughout] which is superbly staged, choreographed and even photographed. It’s so good that it makes the final confrontation a bit lame by comparison, and it’s a little disappointing that we see Dalton practising Tai Chi but in his fights he mainly uses a combination of mixed martial arts and western boxing.
Of course it’s not all about action. There are a few longeurs and even unnecessary elements in the film, like the tarty bimbo girl friend of the main bad guy who tries it on with Dalton, is beaten up off-screen and then shows up to do a striptease, but I like scenes like Dalton, his love interest [ a nurse whose glasses come off after work and who really does look just like a Barbie doll – and Kelly Lynch’s acting is about on the same level as a Barbie doll too] and his cooler buddy [Sam Elliot] hang out all night – I just like spending time with these people. The love story, such as it is, is amusingly unconvincing but you can’t really complain when the couple get it on in as un-erotic and absurdly over-choroegraphed a sex scene as possible set to the same song that backed a similar scene in Dirty Dancing. Meanwhile Ben Gazzara’s villain swerves around whilst driving his car in a very goofy moment, beats up a henchman who apologises to him in a ridiculous display of power, and constantly spouts a mischievous smile and glint in his eyes.
It really is best to take Road House as a comedy, because it’s just crammed full of laughs intentional and unintentional. The fat bouncer who leaps over the bar yelling: ”Jesus Christ”. The blind character played by blind musician Jeff Healey, who by the way wears a wristwatch, saying to Dalton that he’s glad to see him. Healey reaching up to touch a stripper and the guitar in the song he’s playing magically continuing. The firemen who run towards a blazing building when an ambulance speeds past at high speed and cuts them off. Dalton being supposedly so incredibly fit yet constantly smoking. The idiot Wesley saying to Dalton: “We’ve been looking everywhere for you” yet he’s just living across the river from him. A man being able to muster a groan despite having his throat ripped out. Random people at the car lot cheering a Bigfoot demolishing cars [entertainment in Jasper must be hard to come by]. “Pain don’t hurt”. “A polar bear fell on me”. A guy offering others to feel his girlfriend’s breasts for 20 bucks, somebody [who can’t act to save his life] doing so then saying: “I haven’t got 20 bucks”. I love this rowdy [was there ever a director more appropriately named than Rowdy Herrington?], campy, absurd, drunken guy’s night out of a film. I haven’t heard anything about the proposed remake for a while, but really, I mean, come on!