Thursday, March 6, 2008

80's Trash of the Week: Road House

In honor of Patrick Swayze's tragic illness, I am digging up my review of the 80's classic Road House, so we can remember him in the best of times. So while Opie & Anthony are have clips of Juliette Lewis's retarded character in The Other Sister singing "The Time of My Life," we will take the dignified route and remember what is undoubtedly the man's best work in the cinema.

Road House ( trailer ) came along in 1989, the year I graduated high school and the year in which people's hair reached critical mass and the great Stiff Stuff singularity occurred:
This is the movie that gave us "Crazy like Swayze" because Swayze's Dalton character is certifiably insane. He's a professional Zen bouncer hired to clean up the Double Deuce, a rough and tumble bucket of blood road house bar that not only has to deal with its drunken, rowdy clientele, but also the scheming machinations of none other than Ben Gazzara, who is capable of manifesting evil incarnate. Whew. That's a run-on sentence for the ages, but I stand by it.

Dalton's true strength is that he is made out of wood. A strong, dull wood like oak. He wants to be teak, with interesting character lines, like a Kung Fu master, but he's really just pressure-treated like a railroad tie, and emotes about as well as one. Seriously, there are several scenes were he resembles a mannequin, pretty much any scene where Gazzara's henchman, cleverly named Jimmy, tries to taunt him. Swayze is trying to exude cool calm and a Zen awareness, but looks like the cardboard cut-out of Bruce Lee they used in Game of Death (at precisely 1:07 in the youtube video).

Thankfully he doesn't spout Yoda-isms throughout the movie. He's a legendary bouncer, so when he comes to school the slobs currently working the joint, they are surprised when he tells them to "be nice." They wanna stomp scrotes! But they just end up turning a minor incident into a bar-wrecking brawl, the kind that usually ends with a stunt-man being slid down the bar, and balsa wood chairs broken over people's heads.

Swayze explains how to be nice.

What saves the movie are Ben Gazzara's evil Bad Guy, who wants the bar closed for some evil scheme, probably land development, and Sam Elliott, Dalton's mentor. Sam Elliott is like Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, he improves everything he's in. He taught Dalton the secret ninja move of hitting a big guy in the knee when you can't punch his face in. It may not sound deep to you, but when Elliott talks, anything makes sense. He'll definitely be taking over for Wilford Brimley when he goes to the great Diabetus Quaker Oats Silo in the sky.

Sam Elliott faces off with the Douchebag Henchman.

This movie's almost 20 years old, and Sam Elliott looked old then. Fuck the Quaker Oats, I want whatever he's been having. Maybe the Sarsaparillas he kept wanting in The Big Lebowski? We'll have to wait until he appears on late-night cable peddling it, I guess. Sam is so incredibly bad-ass in this movie that I might make him an honorary Big Bald Black Dude.

The second best part of this movie is the explosions. Ben Gazzara, the evil businessman Wesley, likes to blow up people Dalton cares about. Much like the explosions in the best action movie ever made, Commando, when something blows up, it bursts into a fireball and is reduced to matchsticks, suspiciously like a model. Wesley must own a fireworks factory and a demolitions company, with all the hootin' and a hollerin' and explodin' he brings to this peaceful Missouri town. You know when a guy wears a white suit that he's either Mark Twain or an evil sonofabitch.
Fig. 1. Mark Twain.
Fig. 2. Evil Son Of a Bitch.

I know you nerds are saying, "Hey, the jerkass used Ben Gazzara from The Big Lebowski!" and you're right. But it was a sneaky trick to out the internet nerds. At this very moment, a zombie Jimmy is en route to your home, and he will kick you in the moobs. This is just to show you that Wesley is just one incarnation of Jackie Treehorn, who is immortal, a sort of Comte de Saint-Germain who travels the ages in his white suit, leaving a wake of mayhem, tiki objects, and chest hair wherever he goes. Sort of like Randall Flagg from the Dark Tower books, for the Stephen King nerds in the audience.

Fig. 3. Jackie Treehorn's prior incarnation.

There, to prove my Google Image Search powers are strong, that is Ben Gazzara in Road House. Gotta love that smirk. I hope someday to aspire to that sort of greatness. I'd know better than to blow up Swayze's friends, so he wouldn't hunt me down and shoot me in my trophy room. Did I just ruin the ending? If you thought the movie could end in any other way, I envy your innocence.

The film is chock full of white man kung fu, which is what Hollywood had after Bruce Lee died and before Jackie Chan and Jet Li became mainstream action stars. Swayze may not be an acrobat like Jean-Claude Van Damme, but his acting skills, wooden as they are, are a mite better. And his trainer and choreographers are to be commended, the fights aren't that cheesy. A movie about bar fights lives and dies by its fights, and these are quite decent.

Like any good 80's movie, there is a surfeit of breasts to be ogled. Kelly Lynch gets it on with our star, and he catches two bar employees knocking boots in the supply closet early on, known as "the convincer." You need boobs within the first half hour, or we'd sneak one theater over to see Porky's 2: The Next Day. Road House delivers, with both star boobs and bit part boobs.
Swayze's such a stud that women can ignore stones digging into their back.

Ultimately, Road House is completely satisfying for what it is; it never wants to rise above B-movie trash, and it succeeds on all levels. It's silly and knows it, so when I found out there's a RiffTrax of it, it made me sad. I enjoyed Mystery Science Theater 3000, but choosing something like Road House misses the point; everyone knows it's cheesy. It's almost like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra or Mars Attacks.

So here's hoping Mr. Swayze pulls through his bout of pancreatic cancer; the odds (5%) are against him, but they were for Dalton too. It's especially sad because some Hollywood producer is trying to make Point Break 2 in between snorting lines of coke off of his boytoy's cock. What would it be without Swayze? Probably as bad as it would be with Swayze, but at least the crummy Knight Rider rehash had a Hasselhoff cameo. Hang in there, Pat.
Let's hope no one has to photoshop angel wings on this for quite some time.


Rob L. said...

For a B-Movie actor, he's done rather well for himself. Outsiders, Red Dawn, Road House, all those chick flicks - I never saw the bow and arrow movie where he and Liam Neeson play hillbillys, but I bet it was good.

Sam Elliot is the man. Ever see the buddy movie he made with Peter Weller? Awesome!

This is Ben Gazzara's best role, next to playing the dad in Buffalo 66, which you should see.

sarah said...

I loved Dirty Dancing.

Playing the role of annoying girlfriend who's never seen Road House but will comment on the ultimate chick flick: Sarah "she who introduced Tommy to Tony's" Bennett.

Tommy Salami said...

Next of Kin? That was great too. And of course I've seen Buffalo 66... great movie. Those freeze-frame shots still stick in my mind. And how brutal Gazzara is in it.

I'll look up the Elliott/Weller movie... Shakedown? Ha, I wanted to see that when it came out.

And Sarah, you have to see Road House, if only for Swayze's butt.

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