Road House Review
Joel Silver's films have, of late, diversified slightly after the success of The Matrix gave him some critical credibility. Thus, while he may peddle the usual brain-dead 80s trash in the form of Steven Seagal's Exit Wounds and similar films, the Matrix sequels seem assured to repeat the first film's extraordinary critical and commercial success. Of course, Silver's career in the 80s was one typified by poor reviews and frequent commercial flops, with Road House being an especially notable offender. However, it has become something of a camp classic since its original release, due to the sheer, perverse stupidity with which it attempts to redefine the Western, the action film and the little-known genre of 'the bouncer flick.'
The plot is hardly Citizen Kane, or even Citizen Ruth. Dalton (Swayze) is a 'cooler', or an especially tough bouncer, albeit one with an unfortunate tendency to be wounded in fights. However, he carries his medical records round with him; as he remarks at one point, 'it saves time.' Recruited by a vaguely camp-looking bar owner to run the oddly named 'Double Deuce' bar in a two-horse town in the middle of nowhere, he soon gets into all sorts of hilarious scrapes with the locals, as led by Brad Wesley (Gazzara), perhaps the least threatening screen presence since George Formby. However, all is not lost; Dalton manages to 'fall in love' with Doc (Lynch), the local doctor. At least, I assume that's what the screenwriters intended, but given that Dalton's preferred method of wooing is violent sex against a wall, all seems rather peculiar. Meanwhile, Sam Elliott appears as the wonderfully named 'Wade Garrett', and effortlessly steals the show.
The film is very, very bad, without any doubt at all. Yet it is also quite embarrassingly entertaining, because it very quickly reaches a point where every line of dialogue is delivered as if it is some kind of punchline to a joke. Some especially choice lines include 'I heard you had balls so big that if you came, you'd fill a dump truck', 'A polar bear fell on me', and my own personal favourite, Dalton's catchphrase: 'Pain don't hurt'. Add this to the heavy, but presumably unintentional, hints of homosexuality scattered throughout the film- an especially uproarious scene comes at the end when a secondary villain says to Dalton 'I used to fuck guys like you in prison for fun', and characters constantly ask others if they think 'you could have my ass'- and the utterly redundant references to great westerns of yore, from Shane to High Noon, and we have a nominee, along with Commando and The Specialist for most hilariously dire action film of the last 20 years.
The one thing that saves the film from complete failure is that it is at least played with tongues partially in cheek by all the major cast, who can presumably see the hilarity inherent in the central character having a doctorate in philosophy and being unable to understand why, exactly, ripping people's throats out will not endear him to the opposite sex. Swayze is actually not at all bad as Dalton, as action heroes go, being appropriately masculine and physical in the fight scenes and suitably emotional in his more 'thoughtful' scenes (i.e when he is required to walk and talk, rather than grunt and fight.) Lynch is the standard 'blonde woman who gets naked', Elliott is splendid but only really in an extended cameo, and Gazzara is simply unconvincing as a diabolical villain.
The film is not perfect even as a camp classic- it's too long for a start, and the lurking misogyny throughout suggests that Silver, 'Rowdy' and co. were not entirely aware of the sheer ineptitude of their creation- but it's a splendidly entertaining piece of trash, with enough laugh-out-loud moments of awfulness to mean that it's well worth a watch. Plus, in the line 'That girl's got entirely too many brains to have an ass like that', it contains a perfect chat up line for all your Neanderthals out there.
A surprisingly good transfer is provided by MGM. Colours are strong, there is little evidence of grain or print damage, and it looks entirely better than the VHS copy that I once (cough) borrowed. It's not perfect- some of the darker scenes are slightly too dark- but, let's be honest here, few people are going to really care about shadow definition for a film like this!
A surround mix is provided, which is surprisingly active, given the limitations of such an option, with the frequent shouts of pain showcased quite nicely, as well as the dreadful 80s rock score. Perhaps a 5.1 mix would have been nice, but its absence is not missed a great deal.
A trailer is the sole extra provided, which gives a pretty good idea of the film (to wit: naked women? check! Fighting and action? check! A cheesily self-conscious catchphrase, in this case 'I thought you'd be bigger'? Check!) The absence of more substantial bonus material is not, in this case, regretted. I await the Criterion version with bated breath, however, complete, hopefully, with Camille Paglia commentary on how the film is, in fact, a clear feminist statement.
The film costs around £12.99 in most reputable high street outlets. For £12.99, you could buy a wide variety of useful goods and services, or alternatively you could buy this film, and start laughing merrily at lines like 'Prepare to die, your ass is mine!' I can't even begin to recommend the film, but it's certainly an experience. And how many films contain a scene where a car dealer is punished by having a Monster truck destroy his showroom??