Road House

August 24, 2012

Let’s get the official tsk-tsking out of the way: Road House is a violent, tasteless, unbelievable movie that has no redeeming social value whatsoever. With that said, we can talk about how much fun it is.

Road House is shameless, but it’s also irresistible. Patrick Swayze, who hasn’t had a film released to theaters since he struck gold with Dirty Dancing two summers ago, stars as “the best cooler in the business.” Translation: he’s a glorified bouncer who gets hired at bad clubs and bars and turns them around. He weeds out the deadbeats, throws out the drunks, chases the dope dealers.

But this fellow is a bit odd. As he’s fond of pointing out, he has a degree in philosophy. He instructs his burly crew of bouncers to be nice to troublemakers, “until it’s time to not be nice.” And when he’s insulted, he simply comments, “Opinions vary.”

After an opening sequence in which we see his brand of Zen pugilism (he sews up his own wounds), Swayze is hired to manage a rundown roadhouse in a small town outside Kansas City. After he arrives and begins to clean the place up, he comes to realize that the town is run by an evil landowner (Ben Gazzara), who has his hands in everybody’s pockets and his goons on everybody’s backs. Inevitably, Swayze is going to have to teach this guy a lesson and make the town safe.

Does this sound a little bit like a Western? It should, because Road House is unabashedly a Western in modern dress, with plenty of elements of Shane and High Noon. As if we couldn’t tell, Swayze’s new girlfriend, a blond gorgeous doctor, greets him with, “So you’re the new marshal in town.”

Swayze receives a bit of help from his mentor, the now-graying king of the bouncers (Sam Elliott, who has played a few cowboys over the years, in a sly performance). The movie skillfully mixes Swayze’s martial arts, his philosophizing (“Pain doesn’t hurt,” “Nobody wins a fight”), some kissy face, good roadhouse music, as well as at least one fistfight every six minutes. It doesn’t come close to being respectable, but Road House is a brawling good time.

First published in the Herald, May 18, 1989

I know what you’re thinking: I underrated it. True. Some movies hit the sweet spot where the ridiculous becomes sublime; Road House, you are it.