Road House

The Elliott pubes are on proud display.
★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1989
Director: 
Rowdy Harrington
Starring: 
Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazarra
The Setup: 
Legendary bouncer takes over titular road house and whips it into shape.
Discussion: 

There are many things one can learn from movies. I, for one, was unaware that there is a vibrant subculture of bar bouncers that comes complete with its own philosophy, rules, oral history, and pantheon of luminaries. And for bestowing this knowledge upon me, I must be forever indebted to Road House.

We begin at an urban bar called Bandstand, the exterior of which I would swear is the same nightclub used in Thank God It’s Friday. As it is a truth universally acknowledged that when you have a bunch of people, some of them will be treating women poorly and doing drugs, we have to have some Swayze on hand to whup some ass when the time is right, and restore peace and order for the good citizens who just want to have a clean, nice time dancing to tepid bar rock. But even Swayzes demand job satisfaction, and can be easily lured away to positions that offer a higher level of autonomy and present daily challenges, and so it is that the Swayze in question here is contracted to take over security detail at the Double Deuce, a “problem bar” in Jasper, Wyoming.

The Double Deuce has sadly gained a reputation as a den of iniquity and tepid rock-blues where the bouncers are unorganized and unable to contain the rowdy partying spirit of its patrons. Enter Swayze. He comes to the bar and sizes the situation up, passively observing the situation from the Zen-like detachment he has come to cultivate through his philosophy degree from NYU. Now, it might seem to you that a person who has a Philosophy degree from NYU and ends up working as a bar bouncer [albeit a legendary one] is a FUCKING LOSER, but that would simply show your ignorance about the noble and thoughtful profession bar bouncing can be. It also, apparently, allows you to stitch your own arm wound up like Rambo.

Soon Swayze’s identity is revealed and the bar staff stands in awe that such a figure of reknown stands in their midst. He fires a bunch of people right off, then delivers a motivational speech on how they’re going to take back their road house, thus creating a safe environment for the hundreds of Jasper residents who yearn to attend, but fear for their safety if they should.

Meanwhile Swayze sets himself up in town with an awesome barn pad that stands in readiness for an Architectural Digest photo shoot, which rents for a mere hundred dollars, and which, we are told, has been passed over by 20 previous potential tenants. More evidence of Swayze’s discerning eye. Said pad enjoys a direct view of the mansion of the town thug / millionare, played by Ben Gazarra, whose late-night orgies include about 40 people running outside at once to begin the party [there must have been some sort of gate system that opens at 11pm or some such], and who holds the town in the iron grip of corruption. Damn, Swayze came to reform a simple bar and ends up taking on an entire town! This situation is clearly ripped from the headlines, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that cleaning up a cruddy bar alone is really not exciting enough to make a whole movie about.

But what of the women of Jasper? One of them, Gazarra’s moll, shows the desperate, abusive plight she has become ensnared in through the medium of massive blond hair that may in fact have been modelled after the meteorite that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Filling the “Madonna” side of our particular Madonna / Whore divide is Kelly Lynch, who is first seen in her profession as a doctor, her non-product-treated hair serving as visual shorthand representing her pure and unsullied heart. Both women are, however, in thrall to the masculine force that is Swayze, and are shown gasping in heat as they watch him pummel an opponent into submission, imagining what it would be like if all that virile force could be harnessed and focused directly onto their clits. The other women of Jasper, an area apparently beyond the reach of feminism, allow their breasts to be fondled for $20, dance seductively on tabletops, or are otherwise invisible. That is, unless you’re the plucky but unattractive barmaid played by Kathleen Wilhoite of Lorenzo’s Oil and Witchboard fame, who also gasps with desire upon catching a tantalizing glimpse of the plump, toned expanse of the Swayze buttocks. At that point I was sure we were going to get a scene near the conclusion wherein she implores Swayze to look past the horsiness of her face and the fact that she’s genuinely irritating and dresses like a Raggedy Ann doll to the beauty of her soul within, but a movie such a Road House cannot be constrained by convention, and thus her character all but disappears post-butt-gawking.

But it seems that only top-billed women are capable of penetrating the thick atmosphere of homoeroticism that has several men gazing at each other with the open mouth of aggression and desire, such as the thug above, who we later learn “used to fuck guys like [Swayze] in prison.” But little matter, as approximately two nights after Swayze comes to town the word that Double Deuce is now a safe haven for the tepid rock-blues proffered by blind white man Jeff Healey, and the crowds are lined up around the building as if the place was some kind of rural Studio 54. They come, apparently, to escape the evil influence of Gazarra, who, in one of this film’s many parallels to MacBeth, was instrumental in making the town what it is, yet was corrupted by power and influence to become a tyrant. He routinely steals from his residents and demands regular payouts, lest he drive his monster truck over the prize station wagons that are proudly displayed as the centerpiece of the local dealership. He also demands absolute submission from his male thugs, or he unleashes verbal humiliation and physical abuse upon them until they are spent and panting at his feet in a manner that is in no way homoerotic. Nevertheless, though he rules the town with a fey, geriatric fist, there’s one thing he didn’t count on: SWAYZE.

But let’s take it back to romance. Kelly Lynch, a goddess of banality who has assumed human form, realizes that she has to get her hair up and away from her face if she’s going to make an impression on our philosopher bouncer, and she stitches a clingy dress together out of her red-checkered tablecloth in order to show off her wares. Soon they are engaged in a disturbingly anatomical sex scene while pressed against the stone fireplace, shortly before Swayze walks her around the room, prick embedded in her. This clinical reality is more apparent and distasteful than it is in most movies, in which the leads typically just discreetly hump in each other’s general direction. But soon we discover that an excellent bonding activity between two longtime friends is for one to attempt to seduce the other’s girlfriend in right front of him, as Sam Elliott, another bouncer of legend and mentor to Swayze [he’s sort of a bouncer Yoda], is rubbing his leatheriness all over Ms. Lynch and, no fucking lie, exposing his pubes within close range of her face, as he urges her to dump the Swayze-man and accept his salty love pole, but naturally she refuses and insists that she has to get back to the hospital and complete her rounds. Frat boys take note: the best way to show your buds you care is to try to sleep with their girlfriends.

But events are getting more explosive regarding the Gazarra situation, and we start heading into Batman territory as Swayze is forced to choose to either save his pal or his girlfriend, and buildings start exploding left and right. The aforementioned thug who used to fuck Swayze-types in prison demonstrates his deft pole-vaulting ability [you think I’m kidding...] and is soon being yanked off a moving motorcycle only to have his trachea ripped out with Swayze’s bare hand. Swayze stands there holding it for a second as though pondering “Can I make some sort of risotto out of this?” before entering the massive showdown with the king of the city which results in him, bouncer extraordinaire who has single-handedly dispatched several muscular thugs in their prime, nearly being bested by a wuss in his advanced years. The ending is much bloodier than you’d expect for a movie like this, and reflects the apparent desire of the producers to score a hit by blending the milieu of Over The Top with the vengeance saga of Death Wish. At the very end the sheriff and police finally show up, apparently completely unaware that this wide-ranging drama was unfolding under their very noses.

The movie is delightfully daft in the sheer ludicrousness of its concept, but just enough to make it mildly fun, as the delight drains away with each passing second of its uncalled-for 114-minute running time. Plus it hews so closely to its repetitive character scene / intimidation scene / bar fight structure that it starts to get a bit on the dull side. Halfway through I thought that someone should remake this as a full-on martial arts film starring Jet-Li or some such, where the Jasper bar manager gets a brilliant idea to go to Hong Kong to recruit a bouncer, which would allow for a great deal more cultural exchange humor and talk of how he’s just a little Asian but he whoops Jasper bar ass through his mastery of the death-dealing arts of the East. Also, for such a male-roughneck-filled movie, there is a tragic dearth of eye candy, mostly due to the notable lack of featured mustaches, with even typically-reliable Sam Elliott looking more like the bottom of a dirty ashtray than the grizzled slice of man he normally is. Suitably ridiculous but stopping short of real glorious fun, the whole thing is ultimately like that beer you’ve held for an hour and is too warm but you don’t feel like shelling out for a new one, so you just kind of drink it in a state of non-enjoyment while you wait for it to be over.

Should you watch it: 

You could do worse, but I would hold out for the Jet-Li remake.