* * * * * (1989, 114 minutes, Rated R)
Zen and the Art of Road House Maintenance
This movie does not make a lick of sense.
No, I don’t mean Road House is incoherent. Unlike a number of other films reviewed for this site, I
perfectly understood what was happening in any given scene. It just didn’t make any sense.
Road House stars Patrick Swayze as Dalton, a famous bouncer (I thought “famous bouncer” was
fantasy until I checked out Mr. T’s biography). At the start of the film, Dalton is working as the head
bouncer at a country western bar the size of a small airport.
As we’re shown time and time again, Dalton is a deeply
philosophical man for someone in his kind of work -- a zen
bouncer, if you will. After conspicuously not beating the ever-
loving tar out of an obnoxious drunk, an oily club owner
(professional oily guy Kevin Tighe) makes Dalton an Offer
He Can’t Refuse to “clean up” his new joint, the Double
Deuce, in Jasper, MO. He even has a plane ticker for
Dalton, to which Dalton quips that he doesn’t fly because
it's “too dangerous.” Clearly, Dalton’s philosophy doesn’t
And yes, the Double Deuce does indeed need some
“cleaning up.” Virtually every cliché is on display: guys
smashing mugs over each other’s heads, waitresses
getting groped, drug deals out in the open and chicken wire
protecting the band (The Jeff Healy Band!) from flying beer
|Long before "The A-Team"
and Rocky III, Mr. T was
pitying da fool trying to cause
trouble in Chicago clubs.
bottles. Naturally, the bar is roughly the size of Madison Square Garden. Eventually, a monster bar
brawl erupts. Dalton just hangs back and watches, which seems like the opposite of his job.
The next day, Dalton formally meets the staff and promptly fires a couple people (including
hardcore legend Terry Funk). After spewing Tough Guy speak like some kind of specialized Speak
‘N Say, Dalton outlines his Three Rules of Bouncing.
I took notes. You know, just in case the whole movie-reviewin’ thing doesn’t pan out. Here are
1) Never underestimate your opponent
2) Always take it outside
3) Be nice
How much you wanna bet that Dalton will break all three of his rules long before the credits roll?
The next night, Dalton catches the Weasel-y Bartender skimming from the till and promptly fires
him. Because, as a rule, businesses frown on employees stealing cash from the register. Not
much gray area here.
Yet this is the moment where any kind of logic in Road House goes off the rails.
BarWeasel is indignant. No, he doesn’t deny stealing from the register -- he just thinks he should
be allowed to do so. Even more perplexing: Everyone tells Dalton he should not have fired
BarWeasel because he’s the nephew of Richie Von BigBucks, the Big Player in town.
[In fact, one waitress shows up at Dalton’s place the next morning to explain it to him, and we’re
treated to the most gratuitous shot of anything ever when Dalton stumbles out of bed butt-naked.
|On a related note, Patrick Swayze spends an
disproportionate amount of time shirtless and
sweaty in Road House.
The camera actually pans and zooms
straight in at Swayze’s taunt buttocks.
Coupled with the reaction of the waitress,
it’s an absolutely priceless moment.]
Let’s talk about Richie Von BigBucks for a
minute. We know RVB is crazy rich by the
size of his house and the ascot he wears.
And we know RVB is no good, cuz he has
no less than six sneering bodyguards in
his employ -- including BarWeasel, Terry
Funk and a head henchman who I swore
was the equally intense “Stingray” in
Unbeatable (he’s not).
For much of the movie, RVB contains himself to general dickishness: RVB buzzes by the farm of
the Kindly Old Farmer in his helicopter, he runs a civics club that operates a protection racket, he
sends his men into the Double Deuce to start fights and trash Dalton‘s car. All illegal by varying
degrees, yes, but all within the realms of what a real-life shady businessman might do. Dalton
takes it all in stride, dropping occasional tough guy non-sequesters like “Pain don’t hurt.”
But then, sometime after the hour mark, something changes in RVB. Don’t know if it was the arrival
of Sam Elliot as Dalton’s mentor -- he's here to help out and purr dialogue -- or after Dalton and the
sexy doctor (Kelly Lynch) have sexy sex one night with all the lights on and bay windows open so
everyone in a country mile can see, but something changed in RVB. Not in his demeanor but in his
tactics, because RVB abruptly moves from Shady Businessman to Full-On Terrorist.
RVB starts off by blowing up the auto shop run by the Sexy Doc’s uncle, and then gloating about it
in the Double Deuce. He then has his girlfriend do a strip tease -- that’ll show ‘em! -- before Mr.
Undefeated taunts the bouncers with a karate demonstration (Dalton breaks at least two of his
three rules in this scene alone). The ensuing bar brawl comes to a complete stop when RVB pulls
out a gun and shoots the ceiling.
After one of the City Elders has the audacity to tell RVB that maybe, just maybe, he’s taking things
too far, RVB has one of his boys steamroll the guy’s auto dealership in a monster truck. And not in
the dead of the night, but in broad daylight, while
he and his toadies stand around and laugh.
RVB then blows up another building -- a
residence-- and has one of Dalton’s friends
murdered. The knife even has a note attached
that essentially reads, “Suck it, Dalton. Luv,
So, in about three days time, RVB fires a
handgun in public, demolishes a business,
bombs two buildings and has a man killed. I get
that RVB has the local cops “in his pocket,” but
I'd be going straight to the feds at this point.
Naturally, Dalton does not do this.
|You know that old movie adage of
Chekhov's Truck: If you show a monster
truck in Act 1, it must crush cars in Act 3.
Apparently, the zen thing to do is 1) literally rip out Mr. Undefeated’s throat and then float the dead
body across the pond to RVB’s mansion (that RVB doesn‘t call in those cops in his pocket is a
small miracle); and then 2) completely compromise the goldmine of forensic evidence that is his
friend’s dead body so he can go all Die Hard on the gang in RVB’s mansion.
Yes, for the final act, Dalton becomes a merciless killing machine a la John McClane. Of course,
John McClane is a(n out of his jurisdiction) police officer, whereas there’s no way to spin the fact
that Dalton is a murderer.
Except for when he isn’t. We’ll need a spoiler box for this:
So Dalton murders the crap out of all but one of RVB’s henchmen -- I can only assume that the
one who lives is allowed to do so for his awesome Lou Costello impersonation when that stuffed
polar bear lands on him. Dalton is beating the tar out of RVB and is about to rip his throat out…
and can’t bring himself to do it. Yes, I get that Dalton had done this in the past and it tortures him,
but he’s just flat-out murdered a half-dozen guys and can’t bring himself to take out the man who
killed his friend and, oh yeah, shot him just minutes ago? Whatever.
It doesn’t matter though, cuz all the City Elders show up and take turns pumping RVB full of lead.
They casually put their rifles away, and when the cops show up (for the first time in the film!),
everyone plays dumb and snickers.
We close with some more Jeff Healy Band, and Dalton goes skinny-dipping with the Sexy Doc,
who apparently has forgiven him for being a murderer.
This movie, described in what is one of the longest review I’ve ever written, happened. And it is a
thing of beauty.