The true miracle of Road House is that Patrick Swayze is able to spin-kick above his head while wearing pants that come up to his nipples. All hairstyles here are basically crime scene footage of how we once murdered the ozone layer. Every shirt on every character is a billowy fabric stolen from the corpse of a pirate. But if you can get past the late-80s of it all, Road House is a timeless and beautiful story about how drinking overpriced alcohol at a bar is worth at least a dozen human lives.
Road House is the ballad of Dalton (Swayze), a man who very clearly just wants to dance but is cursed by God to clean up seedy taverns. In whichever alternate reality the film is set, every bar is nothing but drug deals, brawls, and the occasional exposed breast until Dalton’s mullet shows up. When he arrives at the Double Deuce, which is apparently not a reference to drinking both coffee and fiber every morning, Dalton has his work cut out for him.
The bar is located in a small town that is basically run by Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). He has a helicopter and wears many hats, which quickly illustrates that he is both rich and evil. For reasons that are never clear, Wesley’s sinister plan requires the Double Deuce to remain super-duper gross. Thus, Dalton must call on the supernatural powers of a fully bearded Sam Elliott and have icky sex with the local doctor (Kelly Lynch) to summon enough strength to overcome Wesley’s thugs, who are all redneck cartoons, wear shirtless vests, or both.
How did this poorly reviewed, wildly generic, sporadically offensive film become a classic? Mostly the dialogue. Shakespeare is amateur hour next to quotes like “Pain don’t hurt.” In all sincerity, the biggest factor in its modest timelessness is Swayze’s unique swagger, which is a bizarre combo of machismo and ballet. Oh, he’ll punch you right in your stupid face, but he’ll also pirouette at any time, just try him. The other factor is that Road House has the precise cheeseball alchemy needed to spin remarkably bad sequences into hilarious gold. Oh, sure, someone does get their throat ripped out. But that guy was wearing a choker with a half-moon on it. His time on earth was always going to be brief.
Rewatching Road House isn’t just a snort of nostalgia from a time when cocaine was more prevalent in bathrooms than hand sanitizer. It is a reminder of a whole genre of film that has dried up. Nobody makes a small action movie anymore. The Rock’s very name suggests he was created when lightning struck a Michael Bay movie, yet he’s not allowed to star in modest-scale brawler cinema. Instead, all action flicks are legally required to feature him saving the world. Although by no means objectively, you know, “good,” Road House is a snapshot of the kind of largely innocuous violence that used to distract us. And lord knows we need distraction now more than ever.
Grade = B