Road House (1989)

Posted in Reviews by - June 29, 2024
Road House (1989)

In the great tradition of 1980s meat-headed, chauvinistic Hollywood beat-’em-ups, this is surely one of the best – an unapologetic slice of macho rebel-rousing that just about skirts the fine-line between being knowingly arch and totally obnoxious. Lithe dancer and martial artist Patrick Swayze – trained by Benny “The Jet” Urquidez – can’t hold a candle to the bulk of beefcakes like Schwarzenegger and Stallone (a trope constantly referred to in the movie with the recurring meta-gag, “I thought you would be bigger”), so as renowned nightclub bouncer James Dalton, he’s positioned more as a deep-thinker – a philosopher thug, if you will – who prefers literature to liquor, and rural life over city living, a quiet spot where he can practice kung fu near a barn at sunrise. He’s hired by a wealthy barowner to police the Double Deuce in Kansas City, the sort of place where they “sweep up the eyeballs after closing”. The bar resembles a scene from WrestleMania with violence breaking out at every opportunity – although no one ever seems to be under any serious threat – where the band play behind a metal fence to protect themselves from flying bottles. Dalton’s cool attitude and advice to his bouncers to “be nice” to the customers turns around the fortunes of the Double Deuce, which incurs the wrath of greedy local businessman Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who acts without reproach, taxing the townsfolk and terrorising people with threats and intimidation. The police don’t seem to exist in Kansas City, and soon Dalton is forced into Wesley’s orbit, and his feet and fists are put to the test. The film’s emphasis on fight scenes over gun battles certainly distinguishes it from the slew of other violent action films of the 1980s, and Swayze presents a more delicate, sensitive side to the world-weary action archetype. Coupled with some great one liners (“I don’t fly. Too dangerous”), and a charming support from Sam Elliott – playing Dalton’s fight ready brother from another mother, Wade Garrett – all help to elevate the film to something beyond the generic.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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