...oh, I most definitely won't come a-knockin'. But of all the adjectives I could invoke to describe the 1989 film Road House, "rockin'" wouldn't make the list. "Cheesy," "ridiculous" and "appalling" do quite nicely.
There's an action movie template which goes something like, "The best ---- in the world is put to the test." There's another one, used mostly for westerns, that goes, "One man fights against the evil overlord of a small town." Yet another says simply, "Shit blows up and people fight or have sex for no apparent reason." Road House is all three of those movies in one.
As a kind of bonus, it's also a time capsule of some of the worst ideas in late-80s styling and -- and! -- a tribute to the frequently-glistening physique of one Patrick Swayze. Hell, no wonder it makes no damn sense; that's a lot for one film!
Now, I should preface all this by saying that I haven't seen the new reissue DVD with a bunch of commentary tracks, including one featuring Kevin Smith (?). This is a recap of Road House as it has been experienced by audiences for 17 years now: un-retouched, un-commentaried and un-comprehensible. Let's enter its little world, shall we?
There's our man, ladies & gents. James Dalton, the best bouncer in the continental United States. How they determine that, I don't know. As we begin the film, Dalton is the "cooler" at a New York City bar, meaning that he's kind of the vice president in charge of bouncing. He mostly manages the other bouncers, although he'll enter the fray if things are looking kind of rough:
This is the film's idea of "rough." And this is its idea of "tough and ready to rumble":
Well, everybody knows: don't fuck with a dude in pleats whose belt sits atop his ribcage. After battling through a mediocre fight scene and stitching up his own knife wound, Dalton is approached by the owner of a bar in Jasper, Missouri. He's heard of Dalton's reputation and would like to hire him away to set this bar on the right course. Dalton agrees, and soon we are whisked away to the Double Deuce bar. What sort of folks will we meet there?
The blind guitarist with the heart of gold!
His girl Friday!
And these two!
Within a couple of days, Dalton has cleared out the sleazy doorman (that's him in his skivvies, there) and the corrupt bartender (Nathan Wind), making a few enemies in the process. But he soon discovers who the real Big Bad in town is:
Jackie Treehorn -- er, Ben Gazzara. Gazzara plays Brad Wesley (can you imagine a less threatening name?) who has somehow built an empire by fleecing this small town. I counted one bar, an auto parts store, a car dealership and a hospital; who the hell gets rich off of that? Later in the film, it's explained that he controls the liquor sales in town, which makes it even more improbable. I know there's not much to do in small-town Missouri, but just how much do these people drink? Wait, I'm thinking, and that's not a good idea while watching this film.
Dalton rents a place across the lake from Wesley and witnesses a scene of drunken debauchery while reading one night:
What is he reading? Legends of the Fall. See, Dalton is being sold to us as the thoughtful, sensitive sex symbol. He reads! He has a degree in philosophy from NYU! He does tai chi! And the sight of his naked butt makes women look like this:
When he's not charming the ladies, Dalton makes a few friends in town, such as his landlord Emmett:
And Red, the dude who owns the auto parts store:
Once a week, Red gets gouged by Wesley and his main goon:
The camera does a great tracking shot, circling around his be-mulleted head. I think it was supposed to be impressive, but it just looks stupid. In fact, many shots in this movie were obviously supposed to be impressive, to inspire lust or fear, but instead just make me snort. Like this:
(Both of which belong to Wesley.) The film's dialogue is similarly laughable. Here's a classic scene, where Dalton fends off Wesley's troublemaking minions:
"You're too stupid to have a good time!" Not only is the impossibility of that proven nightly at every bar on Earth, it doesn't even work as a verbal smackdown. The blonde in the gingham dress who shows up at the end of the clip is Dr. Elizabeth Clay, played by Kelly Lynch. She meets Dalton at the hospital when she sews up a knife wound on him:
See, she's wearing glasses. That means she's smart! Not so smart as to avoid dating Dalton, though, and not even smart enough not to have dated Wesley in the past. So now Wesley has an additional reason to hate Dalton. Of course, the Doc has some competition of her own: Denise, Wesley's lead skank, has her eye on Dalton as well. See?
She makes an artless pass at him, gets turned down and is then hustled out by Wesley's goons. I swear, half the damn population of this town works for Wesley; I have no idea where this money of his comes from -- no, crap, I'm thinking again. I need to knock that out. The next time we see Denise, she's sporting a spectacularly fake bruise that looks like something a 7th-grader would have done with her sister's stash of Wet N' Wild:
Wesley offers Dalton a job and alludes to a man Dalton killed in Memphis (although I think he might have just been quoting a blues song). Dalton tells him "no dice" and goes on his merry way.
His merry, beige way. This is how the best bouncer in the world dresses for work, y'all. There's some concern at the bar because Wesley won't sell them any liquor after his little snit with Dalton. But Dalton soon has other things on his mind, as he meets up with the Doc and:
(Ya know, from certain angles, Kelly Lynch looks a little bit duck-ish.) Dalton and the Doc are slow dancing to some Otis Redding and before they've even kissed, it's all:
Smooooth! While we're hammering things home, the next day, Wesley flexes a little more of his muscle at a car dealer who's getting a little tired of paying.
Just as things are looking their bleakest, in rides Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott) to save the day.
Wade arrives just as Wesley's goons (damn, I should just have a macro for that) are trying to intercept a shipment of non-Wesley liquor for the bar. A melee ensues:
See how chaotic and ill-composed that shot is? All the fight scenes in this godforsaken film are like that. It makes me, as a viewer, want to kidney-punch the director.
Now, there are some things you need to know about Sam Elliott:
1. You can still be Sam Elliott's buddy after he kicks your ass.
2. Sam Elliott believes in DudeBonding.
3. That said, Sam Elliott will still try to steal your girl.
4. Whoa! We did not need to know that Sam Elliott goes commando!!
Fortunately, before long, an explosion arrives to take our minds off of Elliott-pubes. The auto parts store -- located conveniently next to the Double Deuce in this town the size of a closet -- goes up in a ball of 10w30-fueled flame that night, causing everyone to run outside and look startled. Their fear soon fades when Red is found unharmed, and they go back to drinking.
By this time, though, Wesley and Denise are inside the bar. (Why? Good question.) Denise -- her fake bruise nicely healed -- decides that what the evening calls for is a graceless striptease on stage while the band plays.
Wade can tell that this is gonna get ugly.
And it soon does. Dalton whisks Denise off the stage and scolds her; then -- again, for no reason that I can determine -- the Lead Goon decides the night's all right for fightin'. He does some weird bo-staff routine with a pool cue (yawn), starts a brawl and then takes it to a whole new level:
Another confusing fight scene ensues and the parties retire to their corners for the night. The next day, Dalton does an oiled-up boxing routine as Wade tries to talk him out of vigilante violence against Wesley.
5. Sam Elliott can still kick your ass, you punk kid.
Wade isn't the only one concerned about Dalton's growing obsession with stopping Wesley. The Doc voices similar worries at the start of this clip, which is a little long, but captures everything that is so fascinating about this lousy film:
Beautiful. The bad acting, the ridiculous music, the sad stab at humor, the dialogue that a middle-schooler could write -- Road House has it all. A fight scene follows that features some classic Swayze moments:
and a goon with his throat ripped out:
The Doc stalks off, horrified at what Dalton has done. The next day, Dalton takes a call from Wesley at the Double Deuce. This is what Dalton looks like the day after that fight:
By comparison, this is what Wade looks like:
Now there's a story I want to hear! Over the phone, Wesley tells Dalton that he's going to flip a coin and kill either Wade or the Doc, depending on how the coin lands. So what does Dalton do? He runs to the hospital, telling Wade to stay put, all by himself and looking like he's been dragged by a train. That Dalton boy ain't too bright.
There's some scene going on here, but I am fascinated to the point of total distraction by those x-rays behind her. What the hell is all that? Did somebody swallow a motorcycle chain? Is that what a Hawaiian lei made of someone's spinal column looks like? Anyway, Dalton's visit to the hospital proves as stupid as expected; not only does he fail to persuade the Doc to leave town with him, he returns to the bar to find Wade dead. Good one, Edison!
Vigilante revenge ensues.
Dalton sends his car across a field toward Wesley's house. When it hits a four-foot-high wall, it doesn't slam to a stop like the laws of physics would have you think. Oh no, it leaps into the air:
and is then ignited by a single shot:
Such are the laws of the action-movie universe.
Dalton sneaks around Wesley's house, dispatching one henchman after the other. In the trophy room (where, one presumes, Denise stayed), he tumps a polar bear onto the goofy, loveable, morbidly obese goon, then hides behind a yak. That is not a typo.
Wesley comes after him, and it's Crazy Eyes Gazzara time!
Wesley and Dalton fight for a while; Dalton bests Wesley and prepares to do his rip-out-the-throat move (was that from Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter?):
But he can't do it! The Doc runs in and sees this act of mercy, but then Crazy Eyes grabs a gun. He is about to kill them both when Emmett, Red and the car-dealer dude show up with shotguns and:
They dispose of their weapons before the cops arrive, and the cops don't seem too broken up about the bodies littering the house. So it's a happy ending for everyone except Wesley and his goons. And if we have learned nothing from Road House, let us close on this important note:
Vigilante justice will get you laid.