'Road House:' A True Guilty Pleasure
Second Chances #22
Hello, and welcome back to Second Chanceswhere I kick the maligned and forgotten into the spotlight, and right now I need a drink.
I teased this one heavily back when I did my list of worthwhile Razzie picks. Well, it's finally time to talk about my all-time favorite guilty pleasure, the 1989 Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House. By all accounts, this should be the kind of movie I can't stand. It is aggressively stupid. It is completely unbelievable. It relishes terrible machismo. Yet, somehow, this absolutely moronic tribute to casual sex and violence manages to put a smile on my face every time I plug it in. How the hell does that happen?
The plot is very simple, but it works. Dalton (played by the late, great Patrick Swayze) is, as quoted in the movie, "the best damn cooler in the business." He could put down the meanest drunk without losing his cool. He's approached by Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) with a job cleaning up his hellhole of a bar in Jasper, Missouri. As he gets to work, Dalton learns that the town is practically owned by the obscenely rich and corrupt tycoon Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara) who's been extorting money from everyone. What started as a temporary job cleaning up one bar turns into a mission to clean up all the filth in the whole town. Were it not for the then-modern setting and scenarios, one would be forgiven for thinking of this as a Western. Indeed, the gist of this movie does bring to mind the movie A Fistful of Dollars in many ways which is good because that movie's awesome.
The plot is largely just a thin line used to string together characters and set pieces. First, let's talk about the characters. Dalton is a walking contradiction. Here's a macho jerk skilled at breaking bones efficiently who can sit down and quietly talk about philosophy afterward. He shifts moods like his gear shift is broken, but Swayze's endless charisma makes you root for him the whole time. Most of the side characters are one-dimensional but work. Kelly Lynch's character of Dr. Clay may be a generic love interest, but her warmth during the quieter moments buoys them wonderfully. Ben Gazzara played a great villain, able to jump from snide sociopath to total psychopath with ease. "Sunshine" Parker was a hoot as Dalton's landlord Emmett, offering up some of the funniest quips in the movie. However, the one character who nearly stole the show from Dalton was his mentor Wade Garrett, played by the legendary Sam Elliot. (Hey, if this movie is so much like a Western, it's only natural to bring in Sam Elliot.) Wade is every bit Dalton's equal in a fight, but he also brings fun to his part. In every scene, Elliot looks like he's having a ball, and he belts out lines that are as memorable as his quips from The Big Lebowski.
The action scenes are top-notch. Unlike most martial arts movies that focus on style, the fights in Road House are about brutal efficiency. Even when Wesley's right-hand man Jimmy (Marshall Teague) shows off with a flip or a spin-kick, it never feels out of place during the fight. The environments come into as much play during the fights as the moves. Honestly, how did Tilghman not go bankrupt from having to replace tables, glassware, and booze after every barfight? However, the best moment was the final fight between Jimmy and Dalton near the end of the movie. The camerawork and choreography gave the brutality of the fight even more of an impact, and the make-up work after Dalton's Mortal Kombat finisher was so impressive that it still makes me shudder.
However, one of the best parts of the movie is the music. The score by Michael Kamen is phenomenal. The quieter moments bring in the Western feel often with a simple acoustic guitar, and the larger tunes during the fight scenes just add to the tension. The real star, though, is the rock soundtrack mostly provided by the awesome Jeff Healey (whose band played the bar's house band in the movie). While most of his output were covers of rock and blues standards, the performances were so awesome that I had to look up his band afterward. It's a shame he wasn't a bigger success in the United States though he was a much bigger deal back home in Canada. (I smell a future Silver Linings Playlist here...)
Road House is a movie worthy of being idolized by Peter Griffin from Family Guy. It doesn't try to be anything more than a dumb but fun action romp, and it succeeds. Even John Wilson, the guy who nominated it for five Razzies total, ended up putting it in his list of "The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made." Yes, it's stupid. Yes, it's annoyingly macho. Yet, it is a hoot from start to finish. It has a cult following (and the threat of a remake) for a reason. Grab a couple beers, and give it a watch.
Any other fans of this one? Let me know, and join me for a big special next time.