Road House: Deluxe Edition
July 18, 2006
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Ben Gazzara, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, Kevin Tighe, Keith David, Kathleen Wilhoite, Sunshine Parker, Red West, Julie Michaels, Marshall Teague, John Doe,
After the success of Dirty Dancing (1987) made Patrick Swayze a household name, he followed it up with two unimpressive movies and then came Road House (1989) which was a modest success commercially and savaged by critics as he unsuccessfully tried to transfer the sensitive side from Dirty Dancing’s Johnny Castle (“No one puts baby in the corner!”) into what is essentially a balls-out exploitation film. Over the years, Road House has developed something of a cult film following thanks to heavy rotation on T.V. stations like TNT and TBS, and being rediscovered on home video with its fans devotedly quoting from its memorably cheesy dialogue.
Dalton (Swayze) is the best bar bouncer in the business with an unorthodox approach to his job: he avoids confrontation if at all possible. He’s hired by the owner (Tighe) of the Double Deuce, a rough and tumble bar just outside of Kansas City. It’s a tough, seedy dive where the house band (Canadian blues musician Jeff Healey) plays behind chicken wire, fights break out on a regular basis and there’s always blood on the floor. Dalton clearly has his work cut out for him. Director Rowdy Herrington spends a little too long rubbing our faces in the Deuce’s skankiness but he certainly gets the point across.
Dalton runs his operation by a set of three simple rules: 1. “Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.” 2. “Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it is absolutely necessary.” 3. “Be nice.” For the first 20 minutes or so we don’t see Dalton do much and Herrington does this on purpose to build up his reputation and anticipation for when he finally gets to cut loose. When the experienced bouncer finally does show what he’s capable of it is to quickly stop an obnoxious patron armed with a knife by breaking his nose on a table.
When Dalton fires the Deuce’s corrupt bartender (Doe), he finds out that the man’s uncle is Brad Wesley (Gazzara), the source for the region’s liquor and this brings them in direct opposition with each other. Along the way, Dalton meets and falls in love with the town’s gorgeous leggy ER doctor (Lynch) whose uncle is being extorted (along with the rest of the local businesses) by Wesley and this leads to the inevitable showdown with Dalton bringing in his grizzled mentor (Elliott in a role he was born to play) to help.
From the get-go it is pretty clear that Dalton was a role Patrick Swayze was born to play. His character does Tai Chi exercises in the morning and has a very philosophical outlook on life, anticipating his Zen surfer cum bank robber character in Point Break (1991). Swayze also rocks an impossibly perfectly coifed mullet and walks around topless a good part of the time. Of course, if you had his physique maybe you’d do the same. There are some pretty funny touches given to his character that give him his own uniquely cheesy charm, like his habit of carrying his medical file with him wherever he goes because, you know, “it saves time.” Already at this point in his career Swayze was trying to recapture the past glory of Dirty Dancing by even scoring the love scene he has with Kelly Lynch’s character to the exact same song he seduced Jennifer Grey’s character to in that movie. Is nothing sacred?
Ben Gazzara plays Brad Wesley, a grinning sadist who gets his kicks weaving across both sides of the road in his expensive car (‘cos, hey, when you’re that rich you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want) and runs the town by controlling all of its vices. It’s a good thing Dalton just happens to live next door to him, that way he can keep tabs on the guy. Gazzara seems to be having a lot of fun with the role of a nasty man who thinks he can get away with anything. Wesley wears an ascot which makes you question his sexual orientation but his perchance for hosting raucous pool parties suggests a hedonistic lifestyle that was clearly a precursor to his Jackie Treehorn character in The Big Lebowski (1998).
Road House is a pretty bad movie but unashamedly so. It really has no other aspirations other than to be an entertaining, ass-kicking action film and does so in its own no-nonsense way that was typical of many American action films of the 1980s, in particular, ones produced by Joel Silver (as this one was). It’s filled with memorable dialogue (one of the Deuce’s bouncers says to Dalton early on, “You know, I heard you had balls big enough to come in a dump truck.” And, Healey endorses Dalton’s toughness when he tells someone, “You fuck with him and he’ll seal your fate.”), gratuitous nudity (both male and female) and plenty of bone-crunching violence. In many respects, Road House is a snapshot of its times, a culmination of everything cheesy about the ‘80s: blown-dried mullets, rock chicks with big hair and monster trucks. Yes, this film has it all folks and should really be seen with lots of your friends, pizza and, in keeping in the spirit of the film and its primary setting, the alcoholic beverage of your choice.
There is an audio commentary by director Rowdy Herrington. The press shy filmmaker doesn’t disappoint as he starts things off by recounting a story of how they brought in an Italian model that had great legs, specifically for the film’s opening shot. He says that they tried to vary the movie’s nine fight scenes and made sure that every one who had to fight could make it look realistic. Interestingly, the role of the blind blues musician was actually written with Jeff Healey in mind and fortunately they were able to get him. Herrington tells a decent amount of anecdotes on this low key track.
Also included is a commentary by filmmakers (and Road House fans) Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier in what is easily the most enjoyable extra on this disc. They got this gig from mentioning their love of the movie on a commentary track for the 10th Anniversary edition of their film Clerks (1994). This is a very funny track as Smith describes the philosophizing Dalton as “a dude who knows a lot about the nature of man and the nature of kickin’ man’s ass,” and cheekily describes the movie as the “swan song of the ‘80s.” Smith’s trademark dry sense of humour is very entertaining and Mosier plays well off of him as the straight man. Even though they spend most of the time poking fun and laughing at the film it is clearly out of love. They waste no time in asking tough questions of the film, like, “Do you really make enough money being a bouncer to buy a Mercedes?” in reference to Dalton’s prize possession. Smith and Mosier also spend time dissecting the “Swayze canon” including a debate about whether The Outsiders (1983) should be included in it or not, which is definitely one of the highlights of this commentary. Not surprisingly, this track is infinitely more entertaining than the movie itself (which isn’t too hard) and is a must-listen for both Smith fans and fans of this movie.
While watching the movie you can have a “Trivia Track” on that starts off with subtitled factoids pertaining to the movie but quickly devolves into pretty funny comments that often comment ironically on what is happening in a given scene.
“On the Road House” is a retrospective featurette. Herrington describes his movie as a live-action cartoon and larger than life western. Swayze truly believes in the “peaceful warrior” concept and that the role was “a real journey” (?!) for him. Kelly Lynch jokingly claims that Swayze’s mullet transcends gravity and is embarrassed of the one she sports throughout the movie. This extra is a real treat for fans as, amazingly, Swayze, Jeff Healey, Lynch and Herrington (along with other key crew members) all contribute new interviews.
“Sneak Peek – Road House 2: Last Call” is a behind-the-scenes promo for the direct-to-video sequel starring Jonathan Schaech and Jake Busey which doesn’t look all that good (gasp!). Maybe it was their decision to kill off Swayze’s character (what, they couldn’t get him back for a cameo?!) or what looks like a feeble attempt to repeat the formula of the original, but Last Call sounds like a stinker.
Finally, there is “What Would Dalton Do?” featuring a bunch of real life bouncers recounting stories of particularly memorable run-ins that they’ve had over the years. These guys also talk about the “authenticity” of Road House and are presented with a bunch of scenarios and asked how Dalton would deal with each of them. This is an amusing extra that is done in the spirit of the movie.