Movie Review: Road House

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A bouncer is hired to clean up a scummy bar.

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Rowdy Herrington, 1989

Working at a popular bar, Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is well-known for being the best cooler in the business. Because apparently that is a thing people can be famous for. He’s lured away by the promise of more money and bigger scumbags at the Double Deuce, a bar in a small town called Jasper, Missouri. When Dalton arrives, he discovers that the town is in the pocket of local businessman Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), and that some of the townspeople are starting to stand up to Wesley. While Dalton romances local doctor Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), the Double Deuce he works at becomes the centre of a violent stand against Wesley. Things start to get out of hand, so Dalton enlists the help of his old friend, the even more famous cooler Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott), to help clean up the bar and the town.

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When the director of the movie you’re watching is called Rowdy Herrington, you know you’re in for something interesting. Even though it barely squeaks into the decade, being made in 1989, Road House might be the most 80s movie that has ever existed. There’s a bizarre effect in this movie where everybody has a fake spray tan and a mullet, to the point where I genuinely could not remember if I’d seen half the characters before. The only people without the mullet are Dalton’s two love interests, “Doc” Clay and Wade Garrett. The chemistry between Gym Bunny Barbie Kelly Lynch (playing a doctor. It has to be the least convincing casting ever) and Swayze is not just non-existent, it’s downright negative. He had more chemistry with Kathleen Wilhoit, AKA Liz from Gilmore Girls (I was actually disappointed that she wasn’t the romantic interest, given that she’s the only person who looks like a human being). Their sex scene is one of the least sexy things I’ve ever seen. By contrast, Sam Elliott is ridiculously sexy in this film. He has more chemistry with both the leads than they ever manage together. Up until he arrives the film is just a bizarre bore, trying to establish Brad Wesley as a threat against a bunch of largely awful, nameless townspeople that nobody cares about. Then Sam Elliott swaggers in and drawls out his lines and it’s practically a different movie.

Despite feeling a million years long, most of the film is really just a build-up to an incredibly brutal finale. It’s a surprisingly long time before we get to see Dalton actually fight anyone, but boy, does he ever make up for it in the last act. Putting aside the weird homoerotic stuff (because I could write an essay on it, but those are thoughts for another time), the final act is a testosterone-soaked bloodbath. I’m assuming that’s how Road House achieved its cult status. The fight scenes are very intense. So is Patrick Swayze in this film. It seems like he’s pulling a weird Steven Seagall-esque zen killer vibe, but it doesn’t sit easily on his shoulders (which, let’s face it, we’d all rather see dancing, right?). There’s some tai chi and some vague references to past murder. One would think it’s the sort of thing that might get Dalton in trouble with the law, but the law doesn’t seem to have a place in the Road House universe. Everything is blood vendettas and martial arts, which gets awfully boring eventually.

Road House on IMDb

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