Father’s Day is this weekend. For me, I expect it to be bittersweet. This will be the first year I can celebrate the holiday as a father with my own son, but it is also the first Father’s Day I will celebrate without my own father. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my dad was never all that into movies. He mostly preferred Westerns, but he, like many a red-blooded American, did love him some Road House. I can’t tell you the number of weekends I visited and found myself once again watching the hacked-up television version with him. It didn’t matter at what point we tuned in; it was just comforting to know we could always find it. I can’t wait for the day that I can introduce my son to the Road House experience, and though my father won’t be there to enjoy it with us, I know he’ll always be there in spirit.
Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) makes his way through the throngs of high rollers and hot women at the happening New York club, Bandstand, looking for their cooler, Dalton (Patrick Swayze). Dalton accepts Tilghman’s offer to make his little club in Jasper, Missouri, the Double Deuce, a respectable place. Dalton arrives to discover the Deuce is a fucking hole just like every other club he’s cleaned up. With drug-dealing waitresses, crappy bouncers, skimming bartenders, and trashy clientele, Dalton’s got his work cut out for him. Dalton’s my-way-or-the-highway methods irk friends and family of the local tough, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Wesley and his boys run Jasper and don’t cotton to this newcomer stirring things up or courting the sexy Dr. Clay (Kelly Lynch). But Dalton doesn’t take too kindly to being strong-armed, just ask his ‘mijo’ and legendary cooler Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott). Let the dick-measuring commence!
Upon its release Road House received generally bad reviews from critics and was eventually nominated for five Razzies; Patrick Swayze for Worst Actor, Ben Gazzara for Worst Supporting Actor, Rowdy Herrington for Worst Director, David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin for Worst Screenplay, and Worst Picture. Thankfully, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was also released in 1989 and took the brunt of the awards. None of that matters because it’s attained a cult following and naturally so; it’s an awesome fucking movie!
Let’s step back and look at what all the naysayers are talking about. I’m not abstaining from speaking ill of the dead; I honestly never thought Swayze’s or Gazzara’s acting was bad, definitely not worthy of a Razzie nod. Others in the Road House cast dish up plenty of poor, hammy acting. Jjust look to Wesley’s thugs like the bartender Pat (John Doe), bouncer Morgan (Terry Funk), or Mountain (Tiny Ron). The latter two are a former pro wrestler and basketball player picked for their size, not their chops. Doe’s Pat is a smarmy cuss, meant to primarily be Dalton’s whipping boy. In that regard he excels, taking a beating several times and, for those with keen eyes or a slow motion button, you’ll catch when he’s got a bloody nose even before Dalton breaks it!
So not every fight sequence is tightly choreographed or expertly filmed, but the fights are lengthy and raw and unlike much of today’s action cinema, you can follow who’s hitting who. Road House‘s violence and vigilantism is another point of contention for many. Sure, it may seem odd that the cops never show up to cart off the ruffians thrown out of the Deuce, that no one investigates when cars, property, and stores are vandalized, destroyed, or set ablaze, but it’s explained that Wesley has the cops in his pocket. Even when folks start ending up dead, it takes a pile of bodies to get the fuzz on the scene. And that’s fine since audiences don’t want procedure getting in the way of the pissing contest between Dalton and Wesley.
By the way, how awesome is it that Dalton is this modest, tai chi practicing, philosophical man who can kill men with his bare hands?! Not to mention Gazzara’s Wesley; this smug, Panama Jack-ass looking tool who shakes down all the townsfolk to pay for his fancy cars, choppers, and hunting trophies. He believes he’s entitled because he’s the reason J.C. Penney’s coming to town for Pete’s sake! Wesley is as ludicrous on paper as Dalton is, but paired against one another, the silliness of them is eclipsed by some well-delivered bad dialogue, phenomenal shit-talking, and Swayze’s finely chiseled chest and ass.
The Jeff Healey Band, with Healey playing the character of Cody, provide much of the rockin’ soundtrack which accompanies all the madness and mayhem. He even plays something with balls so Denise (Julie Michaels) can do a little recreational stripping. Though Road House features three women prominently, Carrie (Kathleen Wilhoite) is the sass-talking comic relief that is never fully utilized; the Doc is the kind of woman with hair and tan of gold and little more you’d care about; and Denise is little more than the village bicycle around the Wesley compound.
I’m running long, but I can’t end without mentioning Sam Elliott as Wade Garrett. One of the all-time best introductions of a character ever! He chews up the scenery and spits it out like a wad of Skoal, and should be reason numero uno to give Road House a chance ‘mijo’. Road House is a lot like the Double Deuce. At first glance it’s nothing but a mess of problems, but its patrons will never get enough of the good time it offers.