Tuesday, March 6, 2018

ROAD HOUSE: The League of Extraordinary Bouncers

by Cass Cannon
It seems that some folks are just born heroes.

They put their lives on the line to do the right thing, no matter the cost—righteousness curls its way right through the fiber of these select fews’ very DNA. Such heroes can take on infinite occupations; maybe your hero was a teacher, a well mannered doctor, or, perhaps if you’re lucky, your hero was a bouncer.

Yup, that’s right. A bouncer. Because hell yeah, it’s 1989, we’re culturally over westerns I guess, and Road House is here to kick you in the face.
Our well-composed (til he isn’t) hero Dalton, played by the king of cool, Patrick Swayze, is sort of the Mary Poppins of disorderly conduct. Laughing in the face of reality, Road House shows off an elite group of bouncers who travel the country to mop up drunks, inexplicably deny all the ladies, and get paid thousands in cash money. See, Dalton isn’t just a bouncer, he’s what the business apparently calls a Cooler, and a damn good one. So good, in fact, the movie gives the impression that he’s a national phenomenon...a sort of chupacabra-urban-legend when it comes to turning rough and tumble saloons into profitable bars.

We first see Dalton chilling in a New York City Bar. Things are relatively calm and cool until some guy—apropos of literally nothing—comes at Swayze with a switchblade. Like a jack in the box, Dalton springs to expressionless action, decking the no-good-doer with ease. THEN WE SEE HIM STITCH UP HIS OWN ARM?! WITHOUT FLINCHING! Like, why is this a part of his character styling? To a certain degree, it seems that the movie’s goal/main source of tension is combining Patrick Swayze’s famed gentle and less than uber masculine heart-throbbiness with a somewhat decade-appropriate classic action plot; ie a western, fighter, or underdog story, which I really do believe would work if the movie’s parts/plot arcs worked within a framework audiences were already familiar with. What must have started with a really cool idea of a modern cowboy saving a town from a corrupt millionaire ends up dipping into the realm of laughably kitsch—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem here is that it is so difficult to suss out whether it is a piece of genius cinema, or a really, really bad movie.
The main flaw of the Razzie-nominated cult classic is that none of Dalton’s (or any other character’s, really) choices harken back to the logical world. Coming back to the opening scenes of the film, within 20 minutes we see a man accept a job based on virtually no information, give his car away to a homeless man, and move into a barn overlooking a lake in the middle of nowhere...all without any indication as to why. It’s as though they were shooting for a brooding Clint Eastwood type in Dalton, without the cowboy archetype that would ground him. Sure, cowboys aren’t really supposed to be law enforcers or heroes (outside of bovine jurisdiction, that is), but they have the lore and knightliness that makes sense for the tusslin’ that tends to go down in Westerns.

All of that aside, the movie’s magic lies in its inability to be truly bad or truly good. Like, it’s impossible to imagine that any of the aforementioned issues were done without a degree of calculation. Road House must know exactly what it is, which is why it can get away with lines of dialogue such as “Hey Vodka Rocks, how ‘bout we go nipple to nipple?” and a scene where a man gets his adam’s apple ripped out with nothing more than Patrick Swayze’s own delicate fingers. The movie is just weird enough to turn heads, but follows (albeit trippy versions of) patterns of enough genres to remain somewhat relatable. We have a hero in Dalton, Doc (an impossibly intelligent doctor played by Kelly Lynch) playing the love interest, a dark and stormy Sam Elliot bringing the quintessential teacher/sensai role of Wade Garret to life, and a small, dictatorial man, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), playing the corrupt robber baron holding the small town hostage. When you add up all the pieces, Road House really is a white trash kung fu meets cowboys meets Swayze cocktail that...is kind of good?
The movie’s weird dialogue and nonsensical beats had me wondering: could this movie be so far removed from taste that it is impossible to consider it bad? Is this cinematic libation the sugary soda thirst quencher that we all know is bad for use but still manage to crave? After all this revived hype over The Room, I feel kind of swindled on Road House’s behalf. It’s such a wild ride that it feels like it borders the Twilight Zone itself, or perhaps a Bunuel inspired dream sequence. Whatever it is, Road House defies categorization, left to watch over all the other bad guy/good guy flicks from the bar, drinking nothing but black coffee.

1 comment:

  1. I watched this for the first time Monday (28 now),and absolutely loved it. I even got my buddy's two year old girl to do the Family Guy roundhouse kick bit from way back.

    Patrick Swayze rips a guy's throat out with his bare hands and then sends him down the lake back to his boss, what more do you want in a movie?