Road House: Last Call for Testosterone-Soaked ’80s Excess

Some say that this summer’s Transformers sequel marked the death throes of the CGI-bloated movie: a creature grown too big and too dull to survive. Time will prove if that’s true, but it has already decided on Road House, which, in evolution’s drive to craft the perfect action film, is like one of those fish-like creatures with half a leg poking out the bottom and no gills, something that mother nature happily annihilated ages ago, leaving nothing behind but hilarious fossils.

Yes, boys and girls, it is that epic. Like the feeblest episode of Walker: Texas Ranger given full-blown cinematic life, this is a thing so unholy, so undeniably wrong throughout every culture and standard of taste, that it becomes brilliant. It has no choice; like the world’s ugliest dog, it becomes beautiful by its rarity.

Imagine a place where the heroes eschew any possible kind of underwear, leaping bare-assed into their jeans every morning. Where minor fires in an auto-parts store cause colossal, mushroom-cloud-inducing explosions. Where even the friendliest attempt to quiet a noisy bar patron leads immediately to an attempted murder with a hunting knife, not once but several times a night, and that’s not even the weekend power drinkers.

There is no worry about giving away plot points. Although Road House came fifteen years before the YouTube phenomenon, there has never been a film more ready to be parceled into ninety second segments and replayed throughout eternity. This couldn’t be more of a drinking movie if it came packaged with chintzy shot glasses and a Swayze-themed stopwatch.

Dalton Russell (Patrick Swayze) is apparently “the best damn cooler in the business,” which I gather from the film is like the quarterback of the bouncers. Dalton costs as much in 1989’s dollars as a real quarterback, so you have to wonder when the owner of some dive bar gets to the breaking-even point. After sizing him up, the owner of the “Double Deuce” (it could be called nothing else) recruits Dalton to make his place more friendly.

Like a white-trash samurai, Dalton rides into town, where he waxes philosophical to the Deuce’s employees. To Swayze’s infinite credit, he actually manages to sell us on a few of his lines.  After a firing leaves an overzealous bouncer in a rage, Dalton consoles him by saying: “There’s always barber college.” Zing.

However, any intentional goodwill the film manages to generate is instantly snuffed by the sight of Swayze, greased and gleaming like the finest of performers in Mexican porn, doing some kind of martial arts/ yoga thing in a barnyard while a farmer looks on in awe, flicking his Uncle-Jesse hair back like he wants to ask Dalton to “settle down” with him.

Dalton soon learns that the Deuce isn’t the only business having rough times in Jasper. Wesley (Ben Gazzara) is squeezing the po’ country folk dry in a hilarious attempt to make it rich. Question: How much can an auto-parts store in small town Missouri be fleeced for? Answer: Apparently enough for a mansion, a helicopter and a big-ass monster truck.

Wesley isn’t all bad though; things have improved since he’s taken the reins. “JC Penny,” he snarls, “is coming here, because of me!” That marks the only time, in the history of any movie ever made, where that sentence has been used as a compliment.

If it’s possible, the few women in Road House fare even worse than the men. Dalton gets sweet on the ER doctor that stitches him up (Kelly Lynch), and, despite the fact that she meets him because of a knife wound, soon she’s making sweet, sweet love with him against the brick wall of his rented barnloft/studio. I’ll bet you didn’t know that farm animals and manure are the ultimate aphrodisiac, did you? Later on, after a night of drunken revelry, the good doctor happily plays a game of grab-ass with Dalton and his mentor (Sam Elliot), getting passed around like the most veteran of groupies on the tail end of a Motley Crue tour.

The recent passing of Patrick Swayze has brought his body of work to light once again. I can honestly say that, when Road House careens drunkenly into its hysterically-bad moments, they are rarely because of him, and the few scenes that actually work are always because of him. Whatever else can be said about the man, he was effortlessly likable, a skill that kept him employed until his untimely death. To emerge from the train-wreck that is Road House with a career intact is evidence of a talent so subtle that we may only recognize it in his passing.

There is so much more to be said about this movie. The spectacularly-bad fight scenes, one of which features Dalton ripping some vague part of the throat out of an enemy, the same enemy that rode away from an explosion with a laugh of maniacal glee that Mike Meyers couldn’t have done better as Doctor Evil. Said enemy also taunted Dalton by saying, and I’m paraphrasing for gentlemanly reasons, that he used to make love to men just like Dalton in prison. Ah, yes.

Road House is the kind of film where, as dozens of corpses sizzle in the background, as Dalton has more blood caked on him than Rambo, the honest folks of Jasper say they didn’t see nothin’, with an “aw-shucks” thrown in for sincerity, and the only cop to ever make an appearance makes a face that says: “Oh well, what ya gonna do?” Indeed.

This is not a movie to rent. This is a movie to liberate from the bottom of the bargain bin at Best Buy, where it’s buried underneath all those unsold X-box games and I Know What You Did Last Summer, Part Ten sequels. This is something to cherish, to store lovingly alongside your copies of Battlefield Earth and The Postman. This is cinematic rapture.

Many years from now, after the mediums for entertainment have changed, and my dvds have been relegated to the great dump heap in the sky, I will pop in the holodisc version of Road House, where a life-size Dalton Russel will float into my living room, sweaty and shirtless, telling me that “It’ll get worse before it gets better”, “That dog won’t hunt”, and, of course: “Pain don’t hurt.”

No sir. This type of pain hurts so good.