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Road House

posted by Paul on 5/04/03

Hollywood has this brilliant tendency of turning the most mundane professions and lifestyle choices into something spectacular. Consider how they make the profession of teaching look life-affirming: nearly every teacher in a Hollywood movie is eloquent and guru-like, as opposed to stuttering and troll-like. Every lawyer is a trailblazer. Even the computer hackers are portrayed by Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller when, in reality, they'd most likely be fat, spotty and antisocial. Yes, Hollywood takes great liberties with the truth. We all know that and it's no great shakes. God forbid a Hollywood movie might cast an unattractive person in a movie about an unattractive person. Hell, they even managed to turn a story about two sadsack AOLers into a Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks vehicle. That's all well and good. Everyone needs a payday and the braintrust in Hollywood slot the beautiful people into unseemly roles and, quicker than you can say "cynical", they're snorting coke of some Philippino rent boy. Meanwhile, you're at home searching for "Philippino rent boy" porn.

With this in mind, I'd like you to think about some of the least glamorous jobs out there. Chances are, Hollywood has glamorized it. Chimney sweep? Mary Poppins turned it into a songfest. Trucker? Black Dog gave it *depth*. Garbage man? I thought Men at Work made it look like a riot. You know, I always figured that being a bouncer would rank quite lowly on the winning career list. I mean, sure, if you're big and dumb it's a good source of income but it's not something that's going to gleam on your resume. Personally, I never really saw the glamour in being a doorman, typically a vocation for the monosyllabs who enjoy hitting random drunkards. Of course, genetics pretty much ensured that I'd have to cross it off the "possibility" list. Even at that, I'd presume that refusing people entry into bars and clubs and having the occasional rumble wouldn't be too exciting. The upside, I suppose, is that you often get attention/sex/herpes from the hot drunk women. The downside is that most of the bouncers I've encountered are bound to have severely shrunken genitals due to steroid abuse, so those encounters would surely end in tears and "this is the first time it's happened...honest!" excuses. Maybe I've just encountered the wrong sort of bouncer. After all, if Hollywood is to believed, bouncing is an artform and a very lucrative career choice. There's even a philosophy to the art of bad fighting! My reasoning for this: The wonderful world of Road House...

Road House is one of those special movies that, although awful beyond words, is incredibly watchable. Released in 1989, it starred Patrick Swayze as Dalton. Back then, Swayze was actually near the "A" List. He'd done a lot of credible work; this came after Dirty Dancing and just before Ghost. Now, Swayze was a solid enough draw, but Road House was doomed from the concept stage. I mean, it was directed by a guy called Rowdy Herrington, for God's sake. Later, he would bring us such gems as Striking Distance and Gladiator - not the Oscar-winning barnstormer, but the one starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and, umm, Brian Dennehy. Orson Welles, he certainly is not. A maker of oddly watchable horse manure, he is. Despite this, Road House boasts the acting talents of Sam Elliott and the producing clout of Joel Silver. Silver has produced some incredible movies: the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series, The Matrix, and, uhh...Richie Rich and Hudson Hawk. I'm guessing that, in analysing his resume, Road House ranks down there with the "uhh...Richie Rich and Hudson Hawk" form.

It would be too easy to dismiss Road House as a career lowlight for all involved. However, it's not your average bad movie. There are actually a few very serious messages trying to carve their way through:

1) The importance of individualism...
2) Nobody wins in a fight...
3) Gay is the way...

On the surface, Road House is a self-styled "modern western". Only the setup is slightly different and, inevitably, about twenty times more retarded. There's the mysterious hero without a surname (Dalton), a town/bar which needs to be "cleaned up" and a villain who is making everyone's life a misery. It's worth noting that the "villain" is fresh from the A-Team league of dreadful characterisation. Fearsome, intimidating and masculine...he's none of these things and more! Try camp, fruity and playful. That just adds to the fun. There's plenty of other reasons to watch: dialogue that flies from left field, logic that is as backward as the hick community it idealizes and, yippee yay, gratuitous nudity.

The first major lapse in the movie is that Dalton is portrayed as some great cult figure. Like a renowned gunslinger, Dalton's reputation stretches across many towns. He's a man of intrigue, with neither a surname nor a discernible personality. He's just "Dalton". The name alone inspires equal measures of awe and fear in those who speak it. Suspending disbelief is one thing, but the filmmakers expect us to accept that a bouncer will warrant such awe. But Dalton is no ordinary bouncer. No, he's the reluctant bouncer. He's a "cooler", only fighting when he absolutely needs to. In one scene, he even waxes: "nobody wins in a fight". It's this sort of duality that "oxys" the "morons" right out of Road House; Dalton only fights when he needs to, but fighting is the only thing he seems to do well. He claims to read philosophy but aside from a few "My inner yin is in balance with my outer belly button" clichés, he's about as philosophical as one of the bar stools he routinely breaks over drunks' heads! However, if you consider "Die, sucker, die!1" to be a philosophy (and why shouldn't it be?), then Dalton is up there with Plato....

...Or Pluto Nash. Whichever one owned the nightclub in outer space...

The movie sets Dalton up as a nice guy. In the opening scene, he gives his flash car to a random homeless person. From the outset, it's apparent that no-one involved is too concerned with the notion realism. There is no real motivation for the scene, other than it offering a lazy way to characterize the hero as both altruistic and unconcerned with materialism. If that is the intention, it's blown three seconds later when he speeds away in his brand new Mercedes. You may be wondering: how could a simple bouncer afford to own two expensive cars? I wish I had a logical answer, other than suggesting that Dalton isn't but a "simple bouncer". Frankly, I was wondering how a bouncer could afford one expensive car. I'm still wondering, because the only answer the movie could come up with is "Hey, it's Dalton!". I guess Dalton is on some special commission for cooling. You know, because instead of kicking someone's ass, he gives you a choice. That must earn him a better rate of pay. Alternatively, one suspects that Dalton has used his trusty fist for something other than fighting!

So, Dalton rides into town like the last cowboy. He's here to take out the trash and clean up the mess: and, of course, do some security work! The Double Deuce is a deadbeat hick bar, where the people dance on tables, deal drugs and dance shirtless (and that's just the men). The filmmakers really pushed the symbolic ship in trying to imbue this joint as a hotbed moral decay. It would take up an exorbitant amount of space trying to convey all the little nuances that happen in the background: women getting pushed around by their violent partners, bottles being thrown at the blind band singer (whose stage is shielded by chickenwire!) and random cowpoke brawls, to name but three. The bouncers are as dim as the clientele. Everyone dresses in cowboy boots, ripped T-Shirts and dirty jeans. On ejecting one of the rowdier drinkers, that old familiar put-down is used:

"Don't come back! Peckerhead!"

The viewer never really gets much of an insight into Dalton's mullet, but it's clear that he views this place with a strong degree of disdain. In the interests of fairness, the hick community is presented with stereotypical aplomb. In other words, it's impossible NOT to despise these creatures. When he glances around the bar, he sees bar-staff skimming, bouncers using lines like "I get off in ten minutes and I'd love to get you off about thirty minutes after that!". There's also a notable scene where a husband propositions two guys to kiss his wife's breasts for $20. One of the guys nearly creams himself with excitement. Then, after some nervous groping, the husband says "Pay up". The guy (who is a complete goofball) doesn't have the required $20 for breast-kissing, so a big fight breaks out. Everyone BUT Dalton starts fighting. Bottles fly. Tables whizz by. The blind musician plays on.

The movie is full of little moments like this.

You are under no obligation to read on!

Who needs charm when you can drunkenly ask for sex while wearing a disgusting T-Shirt?!

The other great "moment" happens when Denise approaches the bar. This is the introduction of Denise, a peripheral bimbo who has the hots for Dalton. Her only purpose is to provide titillation and to test Dalton's sexual leanings. That's a pretty solid purpose, on the grand scheme of things. She is stunning. When she gets to the bar, this inebriated fool in the stripes somehow thinks he has a shot. After Denise orders her vodka on the rocks, this guy loads up the "A" game. With all his wit, he conjures up that panty-moistener: "Vodka on the rocks, eh? How about you and I get!". Now, it would have been great to discover how many times that line has worked. It's not exactly top of the seduction charts. Either way, Mr. Stud doesn't deal well with the rejection (as if he's not used to it!) and gets an ass-kicking for his troubles.

Dalton's individualistic approach causes problems for the seedy bar staff. He is entrusted by Frank (the slightly constipated bar owner) to run Double Deuce and he gives "the best damn cooler in the business" carte blanche. This raises the intriguing question: how do you gauge someone's "cooling" abilities? What makes Goon A superior to Goon B? Does one have to earn a degree in "throwing into street"? The existing staff has become so used to disorder that most of them have been able to skim from the tills, deal narcotics and start random brawls at will. The implication is that while most of them are crooked, Dalton is virtuous. He earned his money honestly, by god! I like the subtle suggestion that one bouncer has the power to rejuvenate a whole establishment. Beyond the illegal, how is this feasible?! Even when he's just visiting, all the staff discusses his past and spread the news that he once ripped a guy's throat out. I've never run a bar or club, but I honestly wouldn't want a throat-ripper being my head bouncer. But Dalton is centred and tells everyone the important rules of being a bouncer:

1) Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.
2) Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary.
3) Be nice.

That sounds like your average bouncer, eh? Deconstructing that sound advice, you could argue that Dalton is making wider allusions to how we should conduct ourselves socially. Take fighting out of the question, and you have three nice morsels of dating advice where "opponent" can be substituted for "object of affection". The advice also acts as a nice metaphor for the movie, where Dalton repeatedly tries to "be nice" while those around him lack morality. Thus, Dalton is the reluctant warrior, turning the other cheek while he's provoked.

The main provocateur is Brad Wesley. Wesley is the local boss, a short-ass villain with serious penis envy and an obvious leaning towards homosexuality. We can tell this because he smokes a cigar and frequently asks "do you think I could do with a few more inches?". Well, I made the last part up, but Wesley's insecurities are pretty obvious. He wears a Panama hat, smiles smugly, zooms around in his car singing show tunes and wears a cravat. I think it's safe to presume he might enjoy re-arranging furniture and listening to Barry Manilow. And sleeping with muscly men. He certainly keeps them close by. His main henchman is Jimmy, something of a loose cannon. In his first few scenes, it's clear that Wesley is not exactly the typical fearsome foe. He flies about in a chopper staring at the town he "owns". He also holds pool parties and dons a pink bathrobe. Of course, the bathrobe doesn't exactly give off strong "straight" vibes, but Wesley is pretty shameless. Sure, he hangs around with Denise, but his actual relationship with her is never revealed

While all this is going on, Dalton is warned of Wesley's influence. Apparently, Wesley holds the whole town of Jasper in his back pocket. That's really no mean feat, since Jasper consists of nothing more than a bar, a tire shop, two houses (one of which is the barn Dalton rents), a hospital and a car shop. Yet Wesley can still afford a mansion, a convertible, a helicopter and bribery. How did he get so rich from intimidating a town with such limited resources? He supplies the Double Deuce with liquor and his nephew worked/skimmed the bar before Dalton fired him. This is all very convenient plot-wise. It immediately gives Wesley a reason to resent Dalton.

Another bone of contention arises when Dalton goes to the hospital to get stitched up (after being knifed by Wesley's nephew). There, Dalton meets Doc Clay, a stunning blonde doctor who takes an instant liking to him. Here, we learn that Dalton has a degree in philosophy and believes "pain don't hurt" (yet messing up the native tongue hurts ME). The scene is supposed to establish how unique Dalton is. He thinks for himself, he reveals little and, as we can see from his torso, he's even stitched up his old knife wounds. What the scene really does is establish Dalton as a masochist, while setting up a future sexual conquest. Until this point, Dalton is sexually ambiguous. He is asexual.

That ambiguity is further heightened when Denise performs an extremely sexual striptease for Dalton. Any other man would have been honored, impressed and "aroused" but Dalton is underwhelmed. Earlier, Denise asked him whether he "wanted to fuck". Dalton, of course, blew her off. The filmmakers probably felt this positioned Dalton as some sort of deity, transcending loveless sex and one night stands. The filmmakers thought wrong. Rather, Dalton comes across as a prude and closet case. Getting a sexy blonde to strip is an interesting way to *intimidate* your enemy. And let's be honest, with enemies like this, who needs friends?! Who said mind games couldn't be fun?

You should watch Wade Garrett's reaction to Denise. It's much more believable. He all but had his wang out of his pants. I'm sot sure whether this was just some ad-libbing from Sam Elliott, but both Sam and the character he plays are what I'd like to call "real men". Of course, by "real men", I'm not denying they might also be violent thugs and serial rapists. Garrett's a good character, though. He's got a cowboy's name and a gunslinger's nature. And, like Dalton, he's also a famous bouncer. Two famous bouncers in one small-town! Sam Elliott has the ability to make even the worst lines sound interesting. In fact, few of his lines make any sense at all. It's like getting life lessons from a crack addict. In fact, maybe the "like" isn't necessary in this instance. Wade, seemingly Dalton's mentor, comes off with advice like "Man sticks a gun in your face. You have two choices: Die or kill the motherfucker!". Wow. Profound. It goes without saying that he still comes away with his supreme coolness in tact.

I'm not really sure where Denise stands in the story. She's a temptress, for sure, but there's no clarity on whether she's Brad's sex-toy or merkin. He doesn't show her any degree of sexual attention. On the flip side, she could be Jimmy's girl. In one scene, he angrily hauls her from the bar when she propositions Dalton. Next day, she has a black eye. She's like one of those annoying "U have a happy Epiphany!" spam e-mails: she doesn't make a lot of sense but the thought's there. True, I really shouldn't care about this stuff. It's hardly high art! I don't even think this movie was written. Someone probably just thought it would be a great idea to squeeze in some gratuitous nudity. There's a bare arse every five minutes. Unfortunately, it's usually Patrick Swayze's! But then, as the internet proves, T+A is an easier sell that anything even remotely intellectual.

Dalton tries to wax intellectual about the art of bouncing. His reticence and mysterious aura impress the Doc/Elizabeth , who he starts dating. Well, he doesn't start dating her. He simply takes her for a coffee, and is shortly rewarded with casual nookie. You wonder what she'd see in a guy such as Dalton. The guy grunts when he hits the punching bag! But then, she also used to be top of Brad's wishlist, so he's probably one of two men in the whole town who isn't a relative, gay, psychotic or grossly overweight. And that only leaves Emmett! Why would a smart doctor end up in a town like Jasper? Perhaps, that's a redundant question, since Doc doesn't do anything that would even remotely suggest intelligence. Doc remains in a town without eligible bachelors and actually "gives it up" to Dalton on the second date. He didn't even have to pursue her! I find this one of the quirkier aspects of the movie. Dalton is incredibly emasculated and there's little rapport between the two characters. It's not so much that he wants to be bouncer, more that he feels called into it. I'm sure you all you Zen fans out there are aware of the ancient arts of eye-poke and bottle-break!

"It can happen to any guy! Honestly, first time it's happened. Cleaning up a whole town is very stressful, you know!"

Throughout the movie, there's a recurring joke whenever a character encounters Dalton: "I thought you'd be bigger!". It's said in jest and with irony since, despite his reputation as a legendary bouncer (I know, I know), he doesn't have bouncer-like proportions. I thought it would have been great had Doc rolled over to Dalton and said post-coitally: "I thought you'd be bigger!". That was a wasted opportunity and I would have envisioned "Don't come back, Peckerhead!" as less necessary than a penis put-down. Not that I'm dissing the "Peckerhead" quip. That was clearly vital in so many ways. Actually, Dalton mustn't be too bad in that department since Brad stares at the naked couple from afar and takes a drag on his cigar. Then, he started playing with his gun. Then, he padded his underwear. I have no idea what this implies. Incidentally, if you think the characters in this movie aren't obsessed with genitals, consider this: nearly every fight starts with an insult to manhood. Granted, the insults don't get more incisive than "chickendick" and "dickless", but the point remains the same. This is one big assault course of faux masculinity.

The posturing continues when Wade says to Doc "Dalton's great coming out of the gape, but he's not one for stamina". Every remark is loaded with sexual innuendo, every male character is trying to one-up the other. The sheer amount of size references is staggering. From "skinny runt" to "chickendick", the gamut of Freudian putdowns is well and truly run. Admittedly, it's run in an extremely gawkish manner. The female characters only exist to gratify the men. The sole purpose of the Double Deuce barmaid is to gasp when she sees Dalton's bare ass. Whether they are strippers, barmaids or doctors, the message is the same: they're only there for sex. The way the movie presents women is incredibly asinine. No woman character is offered as an individual. Even Wade shows Doc a scar he received from an ex-girlfriend, gesturing in such a way that he thinks women are malevolent. We're supposed to think that women are sex objects or punching bags. We get to see them used as both in equal measures.

The theme of individuality is particularly driven home in a few key scenes. In one scene, Brad tries to persuade Dalton to join his payroll. He tells our philosophizing bouncer "I came up the hard way". Presumably, that's some sort of anal sex euphemism. Either way, Dalton refuses. I'd be inclined to take the guy's money and swallow my pride. He owns the town, has a team of goons (they actually call him "boss"!)and is rolling in it. I'd much prefer to take a payoff from swine than working on a bouncer's wage and trying to single-handedly defeat said swine. There's integrity and there's idiocy. Dalton sticks around, to the annoyance of Wade. There's an unsettling subtext between these two characters. Wade tells him "that dog won't hunt", which is supposedly some wise metaphor about the past not going away. Or something. I honestly don't know what's REALLY driving this movie. What I do know, however, is that every time Dalton is supposed to be angst-ridden, they fly in the old Lethal Weapon soundtrack. Because, if the script and performances can't convey depth, some guitar strings surely will.

I would have gotten away with it, too. Were it not for my hammy laugh!

Ever had one of those days? You've kicked some ass, burned down a house for your closeted boss, maybe given him a backrub or three. You just want to whirl off on your motorbike, stop for a few seconds and marvel at your evil doings. Of course, you'll also want to laugh in an outrageously hammy way, just so everyone knows what a rootin-tootin rogue you are. Honestly, I think Jimmy's laugh in this scene makes the whole movie worthwhile. Somewhat. Like much of the movie, it's so over the top and unnecessary. By that extension, it's worth the rental fee alone (or, if deranged like me, the cost of owning this piece of shit). Still, like the mullet, it was probably one of those things he'd regret in hindsight. I also think he's brilliantly attired for committing arson. All denims, a greasy mullet and a sleeveless shirt. Yep, Jimmy came prepared.

Jimmy probably would have got away with it had it not been for his awesome cackle. Our hero manages to chase him down and spinkick Jimmy off the Harley. Then the duel is on: Battle of the mullets! This fight should have been the serious business, but the filmmakers even contrived to screw it up from the get-go. Jimmy's first words are "Prepare to die!". Now, I haven't been in many scuffles in my life and I'm no master when it comes to mullet fighting, but I'd stake a lot of money that "Prepare to die!" isn't the best thing to say in a fight. It's one of those things you might think sounds good, but actually saying it is a disaster. It's such a no-no! I'm sure Jimmy was mentally kicking himself after this slip. But then, he was fighting Patrick Swayze, so he probably figured that if he did say something dumb, it'd:

a) Go unnoticed


b) Be followed by an equally ludicrous/unrealistic/mentally retarded statement...

Dalton's immediate reply is "You are SUCH an asshole!", so it's b). Probably not the smartest comeback, even for Dalton. So, you know, one of them deserved to die. Honestly, the guy's a philosopy major, and this is the best comeback he can muster? When you sit there and watch this great display of choreographed kung fu, you think these won't get any more surreal. But then, after some punching, kicking and mud wrestling, you come away with the impression that this exchange is akin to violent gay sex. You know how the characters in Fight Club seem to get a sexual kick when they knock seven bells out of each other? Same deal here. I find it strangely unsettling that in the midst of all this, Jimmy grabs Dalton from behind and screams into his ear, "I used to fuck guys like you in prison!". I'm not really sure that such a revelation is appropriate, but it's worth bearing in mind. It just confirms the Prison rapist vibes Jimmy gave off earlier, telling Dalton "Your ass is mine!"

Naturally, Jimmy's not the best con. After all, he's just committed a crime and doesn't even have the nouse to conceal his identity (he's wearing the exact same denim ensemble he wore in the bar!). I'm sure the police might be intersted in attempted manslaughter. It doesn't even take much probing to understand the setup here. For instance, after getting the better of Dalton, Jimmy screams "Damn boy, I thought you were good!". Dalton fires back "Go fuck yourself!!11". How cute. It's almost as though Dalton's skating on the edge of homosexuality, and Brad sent big gay Jimmy to turn him for good. This isn't subtext.... it's just a phallus short of blatant homoerotica!

The only nugget of sense that comes from the movie is when Jimmy pulls a gun on Dalton. That was their downfall this whole time. All these guys had to do was shoot Dalton. No need for mindless fighting and rape threats! Just to keep things surreal, Dalton rips Jimmy's throat out - WITH HIS BARE HAND. No prizes for guessing Jimmy's fate. No bonuses for guessing that Doc immediately turns against Dalton in one of those "I can't believe you did that!" facets they give to poorly conceived female characters. The money shot here is when Dalton looks at his blood-soaked hands in disbelief. I was stunned they didn't make him cry "What...have...I...DONE?!". Probably the only cliche they didn't use.

Jimmy's lifeless corpse floats over to Brad Wesley's house. Completely against the tide!

"That dog won't hunt" has special resonance, considering Dalton previously murdered a guy. The guy was actually the husband of Dalton's fling. The reference suggests that women are deceitful. Dalton killed for a woman. He did it again for Doc. The relationship with Doc brings proceedings to boiling point. It's what keeps Dalton around whilst giving Brad even more cause for hating. That's why it's intriguing that, in retaliation for Jimmy, Brad tosses a coin and warns that either Doc or Wade will be killed. I find it sweet that he actually tossed a coin. This is inserted in case anyone gets the mistaken impression that Brad Wesley is straight. Threatening to kill anyone other than Dalton is backward thinking for sure. The guy has a head the size of a turnip. He's not exactly hard to miss.

The murder of Wade brings the movie to a High Noon-like finale. Actually, this is more "Enter the Bouncer". Dalton manages to wipe out Brad's dopey goons before getting to the big boss. Toss in any number of contrivances and you can basically predict what happens. You probably didn't predict that Brad had a hunting room full of safari creatures. I guess they permit hunting in the Zoo. Nor did you predict that a stuffed polar bear falls on one of the goons. The guy is dumb enough to think it's a real bear. Trust me, this movie wasn't robbed at the Oscars. Ultimately, Dalton doesn't kill Brad. You see, he's learned the error of his primitive ways and takes higher ground. The honor of slaying Brad is left to the townspeople he's ripped off. Honestly, the guy was shot about five times by sawn-off shotguns. Somehow, everyone knew there'd be a big shoot-out at the mansion. When the police arrive, everyone pleads ignorance. They saw nothing and, despite Brad laying in a pool of his own blood, "nothing" and "a polar bear fell on me" is good enough testimony for them. And good enough for Doc, who gets back with Dalton at the movie's end. Happy ever after.

I don't think I've ever seen a more absurd mainstream action film:)

Road House is by no means a good movie, but it's definitely one of the most entertaining action movies you can watch. Certainly, after a long hard night of drinking, Road House makes an incredible viewing experience. Barely a scene passes without at least one unintentionally hilarious moment. The logic is twisted, the screenplay is awful and the story looks like it was written on an all-night bender (understand "bender" any way you want). But, if you're like me and you like your bad movies to have style, you can't go far wrong with this one. The enjoyment of this depends on what frame of mind you're in while watching it. If you're looking for cheap thrills and easy laughs, switch on the ironic bulb, zone out and "prepare to die". With repulsion.

That dog won't hunt!



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