Road House shows what a modern B-movie can be and is a perfect example of everything that’s great about 80s movies. It’s got everything a big cheesy movie should have, lots of gratuitous nudity, more than enough action, lots of gratuitous nudity (sorry, repeat), great soundtrack, and a script full of one-liners that are easily translatable into everyday conversations. And really, what’s more important than that? It’s the guiltiest of pleasures – although admitting it is a guilty pleasure kind of negates it, doesn’t it? – and a movie that whenever it’s on TV almost demands you sit down and enjoy its epic awesomeness.
Trying to improve his bar, Tighlman (Kevin Tighe) hires the best cooler in the business to come and clean the place up. His name is Dalton (Patrick Swayze), and he’s known by just about everyone. There’s not a problem he can’t solve no matter what it requires some no-holds barred fighting or just outwitting his opponent. Dalton takes the job and heads for the Double Deuce in a town outside Kansas City. Cleaning up the rowdy customers may be the least of Dalton’s problems though as the local head honcho, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), doesn’t take kindly to his actions. The problem gets even deeper when Dalton starts seeing the requisite hot blonde doctor (Kelly Lynch) working at the local hospital, a woman Wesley’s in love with. Looking for some help, Dalton calls his old friend and mentor, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott), as Wesley’s actions continue to escalate.
There is nothing new or unique about this story. Whole elements have been in movies before and then have been used since. The same goes for the characters which you’ve seen in any number of other movies. The quiet anti-hero with a tortured past? Check. The ultra-cool mentor who is cool because the story requires him to? Double check. Slutty-looking blonde (sorry, Julie Michaels) who serves no purpose other than being attractive and wearing skimpy outfits? You betcha. There’s not a problem with any of this. All those familiar elements work perfectly together. If it feels like you’ve seen this movie before, you probably have. But it’s so entertaining, you won’t even notice.
Swayze was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s and early 1990s, and this might be his most well recognized part right up there with Red Dawn, Ghost, and Point Break. His Dalton is not the typical action hero, odd considering he’s a badass bouncer. He’s quiet, cool and doesn’t let much get to him. Dalton has a philosophy degree from NYU, and finds time to question the idiocy of fighting and brawling. On the other hand, he’s good at it, and it’s the only thing he’s ever known. Also a bonus, Swayze does just about all his own stunts, giving the already cool fight scenes an even better edge.
The rest of the cast ranges from good to bad with some more badasses thrown in for good measure. Lynch isn’t the greatest actress, and her romance with Dalton does slow the story down some. However, this storyline is especially key in the finale. Gazzara hams it up as only he could as Brad Wesley. Nothing redeemable about this fella at all, he is as cartoonish as a movie villain could and can be. Ruling this town with an iron fist and taking money as he so chooses, it’s pretty easy to figure out how his character is going to end up. Joining Swayze to form a superhero-worthy fighting team, Elliott as the wise veteran bouncer Wade steals every scene he’s in. You know that any actor who gets the ‘And…Insert Name Here’ in the credits must be pretty awesome.
Of course, what sets Road House apart from most other modern B-movies is the high-quality action. As mentioned, Swayze handles his own stunts, and there are a lot of them. It’s never too long with this story before Dalton has to beat the crap out of some clueless drunk looking for a fight. The best is one of the last fights as Dalton – pushed too far because every anti-hero is eventually pushed too far – goes mano a mano with Jimmy (Marshall Teague), Wesley’s top thug. It’s a pretty (SPOILERS ---->) vicious fight (especially the conclusion) and doesn’t seem faked or choreographed, just two guys who seriously want to inflict some pain on their opponent.
Now a movie set in a bar better have some good music, and Jeff Healey and his band provide some catchy blues and rock throughout, some covers and some of their own songs. Healy, a blind lead singer who also plays the guitar, plays Cody, the singer of the Double Deuce’s house band and an old friend of Dalton’s. Some great music and a key feature to any B-movie. One of my all-time favorites that is definitely a movie that qualifies as a ‘so bad it’s good’ entry. If you can’t find something appealing about this one, movies might not be for you. Seriously, it’s Dalton’s way or the highway.
Road House <----trailer (1989): ****/****