How was your Christmas? Did you get everything you wanted? That’s great. I got World Peace. No batteries though. Never mind. I also got Road House on DVD. Road House. Patrick Swayze film. On DVD. Yes, that’s right. Yes, you may feel jealous.
Okay, stop feeling jealous. Instead, feel dread as I dissect this classic piece of movie history in lieu of writing anything more appealing.
Road House is directed by Rowdy Herrington with aplomb – and, in parts, two plombs – and no, I’d never heard of him either. Apparently he also directed Gladiator. But not that Gladiator. The one with Cuba Gooding Jr and Brian Dennehy. No. Me neither. I’d guess Dennehy was a bad cop though.
So what’s the story?
Patrick Swayze plays Dalton. Dalton is not just a bouncer: he’s a famous bouncer! Possibly even more famous than the most famous bouncer you can think of. Go on. Really think of a famous bouncer. Well, Dalton is more famous than that. And he’s the second best in the business. The bouncing business.
As our movie starts Dalton is doing what bouncers do at a little place called Band Stand, a club popular with the tone deaf and those afflicted with no natural rhythm that turns its nose up at DJs and other modern contraptions and only allows live country rock bands. Permed hair is big and cowboy hats are common so we know without being told that this film is:
- made in the 1980s,
- set in Incestville, U.S.A.,
- going to make us cry at some point.
Standing at the end of the bar with arms folded, scanning the crowd, being watched by a mysterious stranger wearing one of those string ties that cowboys wear and which look kinda cool in a "kinda cool on anyone but me" kinda way, bopping his head up and down very, very nearly in time with the song being massacred on stage, Dalton’s superior bouncing sixth sense suddenly starts to tingle. That smashed glass sound! The money slammed on the table! The knife! The kick! The woman on the floor! It can only mean Bouncer Warning Alert Amber! But Dalton’s the second best in the business and his bouncers soon have the matter in hand. And then they let the angry man go so he can stab Dalton in the arm. Perhaps if they’d been trained by the best in the business they might not have done that but who can really tell what goes on in the magical world of Bouncerdom. Our angry man tells Dalton he’s always wanted to "try" him and I think it’s a sentiment we can all understand. I mean there’s a bouncer here in the south of England – not the most famous bouncer; the other one – and I’ve always thought I could take him on. Anyway, I won’t spoil what happens next but someone does appear to call Patrick Swayze a moosehead. If that doesn’t make you want to check out this movie then nothing will.
Dalton proves he is tougher than Rambo by stitching up his own wound when our mysterious stranger comes in and explains that he isn’t a mysterious stranger any longer. He is a little strange still but his name is Frank Tilghman, he’s got a bar outside Kansas City called the Double Deuce, and he needs Dalton – the second best in the business – to help him clean it up. Dalton shows unswerving loyalty by quitting his current job and accepting the new offer and we learn at the same time that Dalton doesn’t fly because it’s too dangerous. This is important and is touched upon again at the end. We also hear Tilghman exclaim that he thought Dalton would be bigger while glancing down at Swayze’s groin. I have to assume something was cut from the DVD because I’ve no idea what was meant by that.
Dalton drives down to Jasper, home of the Double Deuce bar, to the sound of "On The Road Again," a song described on the DVD cover as "hard-driving music." It’s not that hard to press Eject while driving though so don’t believe everything you read. Now, either Dalton really, really likes the song or Jasper isn’t that far away because the track hasn’t apparently finished before we arrive at the Double Deuce.
The Double Deuce is a tough bar. Like all tough bars there is a biker gang outside and like all tough bars someone is literally thrown out of the front doors whenever anyone else tries to enter. I think it has something to do with keeping the numbers down for safety reasons in case of a fire. Nobody said you couldn’t be tough and follow safety laws. The Jeff Healey band are on stage, protected by chicken wire, playing the same song that Dalton was listening to in the car drive down. Dalton smiles. It’s clearly a good omen. Dalton is chatted up at the bar by the waitress with a curious Sarah Jessica Parker quality to her: she’s short, strangely unattractive, and instantly annoying. As a waitress she’s also too far beneath a bouncer on the social ladder to consort with so Dalton lets her down easily using the powers of "talking down" and "ignoring."
As Dalton scopes the place – did you like that? Scopes. Makes it sound like there’s some skilled technique involved in propping up a bar and looking at things – we spot Frank Tilghman trying to improve the appearance of one of the many graffiti walls by changing the phrase "For a great fuck call 555-7617" to "For a great Buick call 555-7617." It’s attention to detail. It shows he cares about his crappy bar. And that he remains a little strange. We also soon discover that Dalton knows Jeff Healey and isn’t afraid to poke fun at his blindness and caucasian skintones. Dalton knows that fear is the mind killer. He’d probably just watched Dune because that’s how I know it too.
Dalton soon has himself a beat-up car to drive to work and a room above a barn to call his own while we are treated to our first view of Brad Wesley, the town’s local representative of the forces of Evil. We know he’s an Evil representative because he flies around in a helicopter frightening horses while smiling. Evil.
Dalton’s first day of work sees him sacking four people and delivering his three rules to the remaining staff:
- Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Use cliches sparingly.
- Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Be nice.
Right after this Dalton gets in a fight with four men in the bar and, without the help of other bouncers, would probably have died. Clearly, Swayze’s character is demonstrating how much he cares for this fellow workers through actions here. It is for them to learn from his mistakes and for them to do as he says and not as he does. Sheer intellectual brilliance, zen concepts, love for the business, and something akin to military training all wound together like a ball of string and merged seamlessly into this one scene or an excuse for a big punch-up and another knife wound leading to Swayze removing his shirt again? You’ll have to decide that little enigma for yourself.
Dalton is treated in hospital by a doctor. A woman doctor. A blonde woman doctor. A clever blonde woman doctor. We know she’s clever because wearing glasses makes you clever and she’s wearing glasses half the size of her head. Now that’s a lot of clever.
The natural order of things is for women to be attracted to men who are slightly superior to them mentally, physically, and career-wise. Obviously, not true in my case sweetheart if you’re reading this. I am the exception that proves the rule. Please don’t withhold my rewards. For the rest of you I’m sure you’ll agree that this holds true. Women like strong men. Men like strong women. Just not as strong as them. It’s the way of the world. Anyway, this is why there is an instant attraction between the clever blonde woman doctor and the bouncer with a knife wound. I just thought I’d explain in case it seemed a little far-fetched.
Dalton is keen to turn the attraction into full-blown sexy intercourse using all seventeen internationally-approved positions including The Donkey Tripping Out On Ripe Plums and that one with the harness and an unopened carton of full-fat milk and we all get to learn that Dalton has a degree in Philosophy from NYU.
In case you’re wondering, just like lady doctor, which particular discipline of philosophy Dalton has his degree in, in his own words he studied "man’s search for faith, that sort of shit." You should be warned, though, in case you’re thinking of applying, that you will also be required to do one semester of "That Mathematics Where They Use Letters And Stuff."
Dalton expresses some philosophies of his own during this time: "pain doesn’t hurt" and "nobody ever wins a fight". Deep. It certainly impresses lady doctor who decides to go on a date with Dalton. The date starts with a brawl outside the bar, moves on to a very quiet coffee in a deserted diner, and finishes with a brief, passionless kiss, one "see ya" and a gay salute. Dynamite!
Dalton finally gets to meet Evil Brad Wesley. He’s so evil he eats breakfast while talking and offering Dalton a job. That’s the sort of evil that gets Dalton angry and Swayze frowns and grimaces at the same time to show us just how angry Dalton is. Evil angry.
And now the Double Deuce is a success! The obscene graffiti has gone: child-friendly! Chicken wire to protect Jeff Healey is a thing of the past: handicapped-accessible! They’ve hired a black man to work behind the bar: racial-tolerance! Permed hair is everywhere: 80s-mania! And with success comes … more success! Sexy intercourse success! Yes, lady doctor succumbs to the famous bouncer’s social standing as the second best in the business and decides to go out on a second date with him, this one involving a night in his barn room. We’re treated to make-out music on the radio and a look of unbridled fear and probably agony on the face of the doctor as she is quickly "taken" while pushed up against the brickwork without even an offering of foreplay.
Still smiling the next day from post-coital bliss Dalton finds that all is not well at the Double Deuce. Goons working for the evil Brad Wesley are trying to stop the alcohol being delivered. Luckily there are only four of them so Dalton underestimates their skill once more and gets pummelled. His rescue comes in the shape of an elderly man with grey hair, slurred speech, and a limp. It can’t be! It is! It’s Wade Garrett, the best bouncer in the business!
Well, when you’ve got the best and the second best in the business now running things you know you’re in good hands so it’s no surprise at all when later that night the Double Deuce is comprehensively trashed by Brad Wesley’s gang of evil hangers-on. And Brad isn’t finished there because he also manages to blow up a convenience store and demolish a car lot to keep the people of Jasper in line. It’s all too much and too dangerous for Wade, the best in the business, and he leaves, but Dalton’s not a quitter. Unless you count that time when he quit his other job, but you should have forgotten that bit by now. Dalton explains his rationale for staying to lady doctor, stating "I never lose." From someone who also believe that nobody ever wins a fight this leads us to conclude that combat with Dalton ends in an awful lot of tied games.
Bouncers have lines. Wade has many because he’s a pensioner but that’s not the sort of line I’m referring to here. Threaten a bouncer and you haven’t crossed the line. Beat a bouncer up and you haven’t crossed the line. Set fire to a bouncer’s landlord’s house? Oh, you’d better believe that that crosses the line. Dalton’s mad. He’s "you might have singed the beard of my landlord" mad and that’s very nearly the most mad a bouncer gets. And Jimmy, the arsonist and chief goon of Brad Wesley, is the man about to receive the full fury of the second best in the business.
Dalton underestimates Jimmy’s skill and is beaten to a pulp and quickly finds himself at the wrong end of a pistol in imminent danger of losing his life. As lady doctor looks on Dalton disarms Jimmy and then rips his throat out using The Three Fingers Of Fury manouevre (only taught at the Sorbonne or for additional credits as part of a philosophy degree at NYU.) Lady doctor clearly learnt a thing or two hanging around with Dalton. She knows what unswerving loyalty is and she knows he’s just broken his own rule #3 by not being nice. Off she runs into the woods.
If you’d been in the bouncing business as long as Dalton then you’d think that would be the end of things but Brad Wesley is a special sort of guy: he’s evil. Evil guys do evil things. They talk while they’re eating breakfast as we’ve already seen. They have hired goons as we’re all aware. And now we discover that they’re not averse to stabbing elderly, limping bouncers to death. To a member of the bouncing fraternity that’s worse than attacking your landlord.
The climax of the film thus sees Dalton launch a full-scale attack on Wesley’s mansion. The hired goons adopt the classic military defensive posture of "everyone huddle together near the front door" indicating that they’re all fans of the A-Team. This allows Dalton to walk around them and then pick them off one-by-one. A final showdown occurs with Wesley, and Dalton, remaining true to form, underestimates the old man and is injured severely before almost being shot in the back. Luckily, the townsfolk led by strange old Frank Tilghman turn up and each take it in turn to fire a shotgun into the chest of the evil kingpin instead.
Dalton and lady doctor take a sexy swim with no clothes on, Jeff Healey strikes up a tune, and nobody presses any charges or investigates the widespread corruption, multiple murders, arson, or exploding vehicles. And that’s just how it should be.
It turns out that that bit about flying being dangerous had no bearing on the rest of the film after all. It’s possible that Jeff Healey just didn’t know any songs about planes.
It was my other half who bought me Road House. I’d been after it for some time as I’m a fan of bad movies but wasn’t allowed to own it as defence against the utter shame that handing it across the counter would bring. If it wasn’t for the period of Christmas and the assumption that it was a gift for someone else I might never have had this movie. Next time I’m struggling to think of something to write I might treat you to a breakdown of Escape Velocity. Is it the worst science fiction film ever made? It just might be.