Why Road House remains an action movie classic

"Be nice": we take a look back at the classic Road House, starring the late Patrick Swayze...

When I was originally asked if I’d like to write a love letter to Road House, I leapt at the chance – as one of my all-time favourite movies, how hard could it be to extol the virtues of a movie that contains more mullets per minute than most?

But then I tried fixing on a title for the article and in doing so was forced to confront the beautiful contradictions that combine to form Road House. Part action movie, part triumph for sexual equality, yet with a pure and unbridled vein of macho full bloodedness that’s capable of making even the meekest of people want to start a bar fight.

Feel free to liberate yourself of any shirt, as we take a look at how opposing forces combine to make the ‘House a work of action art…

“Be nice.”

Let’s start with the core of Road House’s strength, Mr Patrick Swayze. During a revisit to Point Break last year (the original, not the remake) it was important to draw attention to how much Swayze embodied the character of Bodhi, combining the spiritual with the physical in his performance. But it was his turn as the Zen bouncer, Dalton, that first gave us a look at his unique blend of styles.

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What makes Swayze a perfect fit for Road House is that his casting is so far removed from the obvious (especially at the time it was made), that it accentuates how much he stands out from the crowd. For me the hook with so many of his performances is that he seems almost too good for the material, in much the same way that Liam Neeson now effortlessly brings gravitas to B-movie brawls, Swayze burnt with an intensity that the purest of his action star peers couldn’t hope to match.

Just consider that the Road House remake is touting Ronda Rousey as its lead and it makes you appreciate why the original did so well to cast an actor who was also skilled at martial arts, rather than vice versa (no disrespect intended towards the wonderful Rousey of course. No seriously – I have a healthy love of my bones). The strange irony is that there was an almost effeminate energy that Swayze possessed, to the point where it helps to level what is otherwise an outrageously and almost offensively manly movie, tethering events to the sympathetic side by the sheer force of his charisma.

The less said about the high waisted trousers though, the better.

“For twenty bucks, you can kiss ‘em!”

If you’re old enough to remember the original home release of Road House on VHS, especially if you were a teenage boy, then perhaps we should talk mammories.

Most action flicks in the 80s and early 90s contained gratuitous glimpses of female flesh, with the most popular excuse usually provided by the ‘cops in a strip club’ scene, something that still makes the odd appearance to this day. Road House was no different in this regard. In fact, director Rowdy Herrington – in pre-internet days, remember – finds many inventive ways to get some extra nudity on screen – the above quote, for example, is what then leads to a joyous bar fight, as comical as it is over the top, so that’s just plain directorial efficiency.

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And yet Road House is, arguably, a pioneering film in terms of sexual equality. At the Double Deuce when a fight breaks out, punches are thrown regardless of gender, or decency, leading to a melting pot of male and female aggression. Now I sadly have little experience of small town dive bars in the US of A, so can’t judge as to whether the film is a true reflection of such venues, but yet again having the braveness to go right ahead and show it surely deserves some recognition.

As if that wasn’t enough to compensate for what some might view as cheap titillation, in rides Swayze on his horse to level the flesh covered playing field, by happily removing his shirt on multiple occasions and even treating audiences to a glimpse at his bottom.  The funny thing is that even when it comes to nudity, Swayze never makes it feel cheap, which is a skill in itself – my beloved Jean Claude Van Damme always made a case for men stripping off in action flicks as a move towards equality, but you often got the sense he was just keen for people just to see how tight his buns were.

“Nobody ever wins a fight.”

For action movie aficionados though, Road House will always be remembered for one scene above all others, a scene that the movie spends most of the runtime teasing – the throat rip.

I still remember hearing about it before watching the film for the first time and my young, teenage brain struggling to comprehend how it was going to be depicted, especially in what appeared to be a fairly mainstream movie. Yet there it was and it’s a testament to it (like many infamous moments of cinematic violence) that it’s over in a second and lingers more on the bloody aftermath. And it’s that pause on the consequence that gives it power.

Yet again it’s Swayze (combined with menace of evil super-bastard, Jimmy, played to perfection by Marshall “I used to fuck guys like you in prison” Teague) who really sells the moment, you can see the conflict, regret and necessity just by the expressions on his face, as Dalton treads the fine line between hero and villain. I stated back when I was talking about Point Break that Swayze had to pull back his portrayal of grief and upset during one scene in Ghost, but it’s that rawness and intensity that make him, like Dalton, the best at what he does.

“You’re made for each other.”

There’s a ‘death by stuffed polar bear’ that makes the ‘run sideways!” moment from Prometheus seem natural and smart. I think that’s all that needs to be said on the matter. Moving on.

“Pain don’t hurt.”

Sadly, critics and the damn Golden Raspberries (who we’re no fan of anyway) seemed to take no pleasure from Road House on its release and even now it’s deemed a cult classic, though in that context it’s often used in the negative sense of being ‘so bad, it’s good’. But I have nothing other than love for its simple context, a throat ripping Swayze at his best, the glorious humour and over the top… well, everything.

If there’s one aspect that upsets me about the film, it’s that no one in it respects beer – it’s thrown at The Jeff Healey Band, smashed up, weaponised and even poured badly by the bar staff, so a moment should be taken to think upon the one, true victim of the motion picture.

Still Road House, despite its share of knocks and parodies (I’m looking at you, Family Guy) is a film capable of crossing generations with its machismo, with fight scenes that still hold up and plenty of life lessons to be learnt from the wise and heroic Dalton (who joins the likes of John J. Rambo in the extreme toughness leagues by stitching up his own wounds). So if you’ve not had the pleasure in a while, or have never had it all, make a little time when you can to indulge and, if nothing else, remember those two little words every day and “be nice.”

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