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I Watched 'Road House' For the First Time And Have A Lot Questions
As part of my ever-expanding Point Break “research,” I decided to fill a gaping hole in my personal film history. I’d somehow reached my 40s without ever watching the Patrick Swayze cult classic Road House, which suddenly felt like a critical absence. How can I truly opine on Swayze’s scene-stealing turn as adrenaline junkie Bodhi if my closest frame of reference is a dead guy in a tearjerker (Ghost) and a charismatic, quasi-predatory dance instructor (Dirty Dancing)?
(At this point you could justifiably question if I’m just inventing elaborate ways to put-off finishing the Point Break article, which, fair point. The worst part about ‘building in public’ is the suffocating doubt. There is nowhere to hide. It’s not like my tendency toward procrastination needed any help.)
If you’ve never seen Road House, here’s a quick synopsis: It’s the bar scenes from Over the Top plus the vigilantism of Out for Justice, with mullets, amazing one-liners, and casually stupid villainy.
Road House is famously a bad movie that’s sneakily good. I think it might just be a bad movie, period, with just enough good stuff to make it entertaining. The good stuff:
Swayze posted up at the bar, cool as you like, while all hell breaks loose
Swayze’s general “you won’t like me when I’m angry” vibe
Swayze cracking heads
Lines like, “nobody ever wins a fight” (whoa!)
Sam Elliot, playing Swayze’s older mentor (has Elliot ever not been the old guy?)
I was entertained, but when the credits rolled, I mostly had a lot of questions.
Swayze plays Dalton, a famous bouncer and bad ass. And there begins our inquiry.
The film establishes Dalton’s bonafides in vague terms—we don’t know exactly why he’s revered, just that everyone is awed by him. Which felt super weird honestly. Is there such a thing as a famous bouncer? Like ever, in the history of the world?
Road House literally begins with the owner of a Jasper, Missouri bar traveling to New York City—a distance of 1,172 miles—to recruit Dalton because his bar is so out of control, only one man can possibly fix it. What?! The nearest equivalent I can think of is a terrible NFL team—like, for instance, my historically-bad Detroit Lions—trying to turn things around by signing Tom Brady at his peak. And then Brady leads them to the Super Bowl while ripping out a guy’s throat.
But how does a bar owner from Podunk, Missouri hear about Dalton in the first place? Is there a bouncer version of Sports Illustrated? It defies all logic. Especially in a pre-Internet era. I could see word getting out after Dalton bounces someone on TikTok. But not in 1989.
The thing is—Dalton isn’t even the only Hall of Fame bouncer in this movie. Wade Garrett (Elliot) is even more famously bad ass than Dalton!
If Swayze was a newsletter, it would be this one.
Although I just compared Dalton to an athlete, a coach is a more fitting analogue. Because Dalton isn't your garden variety bouncer, checking IDs and tossing drunks. Dalton's an uber bouncer known as a cooler. The cooler tells the regular bouncers what to do—usually with a jerk of the head—but also basically runs the place. Dalton fires several people once he gets to Missouri and also somehow resupplies the bar with liquor once the local muckity-muck (Ben Gazzara) makes things unnecessarily difficult.
Dalton conquers the rowdy bar through the use of three rules:
Expect the unexpected.
Take it outside.
I guess this is the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method of bouncing.
I’m not old enough to have hung out in bars in the 80s, but I have a hard time believing they were as out of control as Road House would have us believe. Then again, I’ve never been to Jasper, Missouri.
Everyone is spoiling for a fight in this movie. Not just a brawl though—guys pull knives at the slightest provocation. They aren’t shy about cutting people, and have no fear of the consequences. Jasper, Missouri is apparently a lawless watering hole on the order of Deadwood or Mos Eisley. There’s a passing reference to the police—the muckity-muck has them in his back pocket—which I guess is code for Anything Goes. Vic Vega’s song and dance in Reservoir Dogs was the last time I saw violence this casual (also featuring a knife, come to think of it).
All this just gives our hero license to fight fire with fire. Which is good, because the brawls are the second best thing about this movie (the first being the really choice bits of dialogue). It’s just how we get there that has me scratching my head.
Jasper, Missouri—I don’t know why I keep using the full name, it just feels appropriate—is run by a business man, the aforementioned muckity-muck, with deep pockets and an entourage of muscle. (His character has a name but it honestly doesn’t matter. Muckity-muck imparts the right degree of clout and self-importance.) This guy runs a protection racket over the entire town. Businesses that don’t pay end up trashed.
If you’ve ever wondered what the mafia would look operating in Missouri, this isn’t it. In one scene, the muckity-muck has a monster truck destroy a car dealer showroom while a crowd looks on and he stands around cackling. There are people in the showroom at the time. Attempted murder much?
The reasons he orders the hit aren’t exactly clear.1 Nor is his complete disregard of any potential consequences. The police may be in his pocket, but what's to stop someone from going to the FBI or a regional newspaper? At the very least, wouldn't the insurance company have questions? (This don't look like an act of God to me, Earl.) The only logical explanation is that Jasper, Missouri exists on an alternate plane of existence, completely cut-off from our own and also inescapable.
The only time the police show up is at the very end of the movie, literally after the smoke clears. There’s a dead guy laying in a bloody heap, surrounded by a bunch of guilty-looking people. Here’s the dialogue, verbatim:
Sheriff: “Alright, who’s gonna tell me what the hell happened here?”
The guilty parties, one by one: “I didn’t see anything.”
And that’s that! Nobody is arrested and no further questions are asked. I guess it’s just another dead body. It’s nothing Jasper, Missouri hasn’t seen before.
Road House is an entertaining watch, but it’s not a good movie. It’s not even in the same league as Point Break, which has its own B-movie qualities.
Road House is worth watching for fans of:
Swayze’s naked butt
Swayze shirtless and glistening
Swayze quietly menacing
Swayze busting skulls
Sam Elliot as a long-haired silver fox
Really great dialogue, mixed in with lines that have you go, huh?
If any of that tickles your fancy, Road House is currently streaming on Netflix.
Here’s my understanding of the car dealer fiasco. The first time we meet the dealer, he’s in the house of Red Webster (Red West) who just had his business destroyed in a fiery explosion. The dealer says he could contact someone he knows in the FBI, which is the first and only use of logic in this film.
There are like 5 people in the room and presumably all of them are allies. But somehow word gets back to the muckity-muck, and he destroys the dealer’s showroom in retaliation. Don’t know if the dealer ever made that phone call, but the FBI never shows up.