Road House: Deluxe Edition Review
“If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker, I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won't walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can't walk him, one of the others will help you, and you'll both be nice. I want you to remember that it's a job. It's nothing personal.
I want you to be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.”
Based on a true story in Missouri, Road House came at a time when a magnificent and unrivaled era in action cinema was drawing to a close, with the likes of 1988’s Die Hard laying the ground work from which all future action films would be judged by. The eighties were memorable for so many reasons: the action was real, the good guys were real men’s men and dialogue was a thing of, well, genius to put quite frankly. I’ve seen many of the greatest eighties American action films and reveled in their glorious absurdities and to this day, despite leaps and bounds in technology, nothing seems to be able to come close to capturing what it was that made them so damn fun. Times have changed, including administrations and politics, but so have our heroes. There’s so very little excitement in today’s action genre; it’s all superheroes, remakes and revivals that are actually attempting to reignite past glory. But let’s get back to that wonderful time when heroes could utter the most nonsensical lines and rip out people’s throats with their bare hands. Let’s go back and remember one of the last greatest action films that signaled the end of a decade filled with political agendas and homoerotic subtext: the exploitation-tastic, ball-breaking, ass-gleaming, tit-swinging juggernaut of a ride, Road House.
Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is a cooler - or bouncer – who over the years has earned quite a reputation for himself. Despite owning an NYU degree in philosophy he chooses to while away his days running bars and earning wads of cash for doing so. Good man. One day a man by the name of Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe), who runs a small club called Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri, approaches him and asks him to work for him. For the princely sum of $5000 up front and $500 per night, plus medical expenses Dalton makes and takes the gig. Arriving in town he soon discovers that the Double Deuce is a run down establishment, troubled by violent breakouts every night, with no sense of law and order. Things are now going to change as Dalton lays down the rules and begins to turn the struggling club around. But he’s about to get more than he bargained for when Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), whose wealth sees to it that he practically runs the town, enters the fray and attempts to run Double Deuce to the ground. After Dalton is slashed in a fight he gets attention at the hospital from a beautiful doctor named Elizabeth (Kelly Lynch) and soon they begin to see one another. Things are looking up, but then Wesley’s attacks get worse. Knowing that he needs help Dalton contacts his old friend and mentor, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott) and soon they’re reunited, ready to dish out a world of pain to those who dare not to be nice.
I’m not even going to say that Road House is a guilty pleasure, because I don’t feel remotely guilty by enjoying this slice of wild exploitation, which is something that the film is never given enough credit for being. I mean it certainly isn’t favourable toward anything in particular: women for example are abused in blatant misogynistic fashion, depicted as being rarely more than sex objects (aside from Kelly Preston’s counter to that, being a doctor of course) who reveal their tits as much as possible; need I mention the super tease Julie Michaels, who eventually gets her kit off and performs a dance that any hot-blooded male would appreciate? Still, it’s all so damn fun and if no one gets a kick out of the classic $20 breast kissing scene featuring everyone’s favourite Screamer - the late Chris Latta - or Gary Hudson enjoying his last break at Double Deuce then they’re obviously too sophisticated for me. Moreover, half the men are typical, dopey rednecks who, in not so many words, profess their undying love for one another, as only an eighties film can, and if that wasn’t enough even Swayze gets his muscular arse exploited for a full five second close up. If necessary I’ll use the phrase “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore” when reviewing films and that most defiantly applies here. This is the stuff that legends are made of; those who helped shape and define a decade of unrelentingly shameless cinema.
I first watched Road House when I was way too young to be watching it, probably fourteen if memory serves correctly; we always used to rent videos from the local guy who pulled up in his car and kept his catalogue of vids in the boot. I miss those days. I had to wait weeks for Batman though because he only had one copy. Since then I’ve seen Road House from time to time on TV or VHS and the more I see it the better it gets. It’s hopelessly addictive, it runs for almost two hours and yet every damn frame is captivating in its own, odd little way. But there’s one thing you don’t appreciate so much as a kid and that’s the dialogue. Nobody writes films like this. What the hell was David Lee Henry thinking, or smoking for that matter? Shit, I don’t care, because the guy is a genius, and yet he’s done nothing since 1991’s Out for Justice. This is pure adult, sleazy, descriptive stuff, throwing in more than a few homoerotic lines and exchanges that on occasion make so little sense (“Pain don’t hurt”). I could sit here all night and litter this review with dozens of classic moments, but I’d feel as if I would be cheating the reader, those who need to see this film if they haven’t done so already. But to give you an idea of its brilliance I will close this section by sharing a moment between bad guy Brad Wesley and Dalton, just as Wesley thinks he has the one up on our protagonist. “I see you found my trophy room. The only thing that’s missing is your ass.” Of all the anatomy that could have been mentioned it had to be someone’s arse. Every other line in this flick is comedy gold - pure, surreal comedy gold, and what’s even better is that everyone involved delivers them with such aplomb, knowing of course that a film like this shouldn’t be taken seriously (I hope). I swear, you won’t be disappointed.
Joel Silver had just come off completing Die Hard when he took on Road House, having also produced some of the greatest action films of that decade, including Commando, Lethal Weapon and Predator. His involvement with Road House was well timed; it’s not as full blown as some of the aforementioned films in the strictest sense, i.e. there’s very little by way of gunplay and traditional action more commonly associated with American cinema at the time. Interestingly enough the film takes a fairly new approach in terms of this. At a time when American audiences just didn’t widely accept martial arts in their films - and until around the late nineties didn’t fully embrace it - Road House dared to be just that little bit different, and it’s certainly refreshing. Sure there was Chuck and Segal, but these were films that never set the box office on fire. Curiously Road House did extremely good business at the box office, earning just over thirty million dollars. Whether that was because of Patrick Swayze or an interesting take on the genre I don’t know, but obviously director Rowdy Herrington did something right. The Double Deuce club, which remains the centerpiece of our film is naturally where most of the action takes place. The film is chock full of bar fights, but the director manages to make each one stand out a little more than the previous one. More importantly he helms them with a lot of clear precision. When it comes to Dalton’s confrontations these are staged remarkably well, with great editing and shots that are drawn out long enough to show the audience that every actor is doing his or her own work. There’s very little in the way of stunt doubles (in terms of the main cast), aside from people flying over tables. When it comes to the real meat of these pieces things are nicely cut, well choreographed and highly impress, particularly with Swayze at his peak and Sam Elliot showing that he has a few good moves up his sleeve as well.
In terms of its appearance Road House is a very polished piece of work. For a film set in a little town where nothing immediately stands out as being particularly exciting or intimidating, Herrington shows a strong understanding and takes good command over proceedings. His cinematographer, the great Dean Cundey, presents us with as much of the community as possible, enlivening much of its surround with a fond and energetic use of cranes and dollying, which although is obvious, never actually becomes intruding; rather it serves several scenes a whole lot better, including some of the more intimately shot ones. Really, this film looks grander than it has any right to be.
Patrick Swayze has never been held in the highest esteem; he’s pretty much remembered for four films: Dirty Dancing, the film we’re looking at now, Ghost and Point Break. These features have shown him in top condition and thanks to his athletic background have enabled him to utilise his physical prowess to great effect. In addition he’s also an accomplished actor and that is something that he’s been able to balance well in his career, whatever the naysayers might think. He may not be a classic action figure, but he can certainly sell it well. Road House shows him having an absolute blast, being perfectly cast as James Dalton. Honestly, nobody else could do this character justice. Swayze is just awesome from the start; he’s got the looks, the cool, the brains, the charm and a brilliant sense of humour which rounds off his character quite nicely. His performance is largely reserved, making Dalton a quiet, yet dangerous man who can also sew up his own wounds for Christ sake! He knows that he can kick anyone’s ass, but he doesn’t have to prove it, and with just a simple look or gesture Swayze manages to imbue that tremendous sense of honour, which ties in with his Tai Chi leanings and philosophies. By playing up to the film’s ideals he ultimately works better and ropes in the viewer to go along for the ride with him.
Support wise, it’s all good. With the obligatory intersecting love interest which proves that Road House isn’t an entirely homoerotic film (something that Top Gun still had issues over), Kelly Lynch delivers the goods rather well. It helps that she’s a real looker also, but she shares a good chemistry with Swayze, so good that at one point she even lets him stick his tongue down her throat during a back to the wall sex/dance scene in which Dalton emerges victorious. Sam Elliot is also a welcome addition. He does come into the film quite late; it’s not until about an hour in that he joins Swayze for some fisticuffs, but his entrance provides the dynamic for which the rest of the film places focus on and sees a bond between the two which will ensure that things are pushed to their very limit, as the final twenty minutes go into revenge/thriller overdrive. Ben Gazzara as the main baddie, Wesley, isn’t so much of a memorable bad guy, however, but he does play a good asshole kinda guy and it’s nice to see Swayze take him down. The most surprising player is Kevin Tighe, but only because every time I see him in a film I expect him to suddenly become a baddie after some twist. He doesn’t here, but somehow he just treads that fine line and produces an ambiguous character who the viewer can’t quite get a handle on.
You know, this review has gone on far longer than I ever expected it to and it’s almost over, I promise. But before I stop I’ll just get into one last thing. Road House has a fantastic soundtrack. Sure there are a few covers, but when you’ve got Jeff Healey and his band singing the likes of “Long Tall Sally”, then whooee!, you’re in for a treat. Incidentally Jeff Healey also plays the part of Dalton’s good friend Cody, in his one and only acting job, which isn’t to say he’s bad, but he’s a singer you know, he’s gotta tour and stuff.
I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I’m not sure if Kevin Smith’s words on his Clerks DVD fully persuaded MGM, but whatever it was it’s sure as hell appreciated. Road House has finally been given a much deserved special edition release. Actually I suspect it was because of Road House 2.
The film has been given the anamorphic treatment in a remastered High Definition state, preserving its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Early on it doesn’t look particularly promising; there’s a little compression that’s evident during the opening credits, which soon goes away and presents no immediate problems. Aliasing rears its head from time to time, showing up predominantly on cars and checkered clothing, while wide shots exhibit a slight softness. I couldn’t make out any edge enhancement, which is always a surprise, and close up detail is fine. All in all this looks very pleasing and is more than adequate for fans.
Road House was originally distributed in Dolby Stereo SR and that’s what we get here. Thank you MGM for simply going with the original track and nothing more. The film sounds great, despite being a little low on the register, providing solid enough clarity all round. The music is punchy and immediately enlivens each scene, while dialogue is presented sweetly. Hurrah!
French and Spanish Dolby Surround track are also included, as well as optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
There are no optional subtitles for the following extras, except for the trivia track which utilises a stream:
Audio Commentary with Rowdy Herrington
The director of Road House sits in on his first major studio picture as he recalls the shooting process way back when. Although there are some very lengthy pauses throughout he does manage to pass off some interesting comments, while keeping them strictly brief, such as shooting in Panavision anamorphic and making the most of set ups, cinematography and set building. He makes us fully aware that his intentions were to bring back the classic western style but infuse it with cartoon sensibilities, acknowledging its silliness from time to time and the sheer sense of humour that comes from the many wonderful lines. He praises his cast and talks about how much fun they were to work with, letting us in on some casting stories (Sam Elliot’s initial negative response) and experiences during the shoot, particularly with Swayze reaching the height of his fame. There are also a few location facts and mention of one particular scene which was deleted involving Elliot’s character, which explains the rose tattoo shot. It’s a shame then that we don’t get any deleted footage on the disc. Overall it’s a laid back track and Herrington does a good job as he still remembers a lot about filming. It’s a shame that he doesn’t have Patrick Swayze by his side, given that MGM managed to get quite a few stars involved in this package.
Audio Commentary with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier
After informing us how their involvement came about, film makers Smith and Mosier (Clerks, Mallrats etc) get into discussing this cult classic. Armed with notes, some of which sound suspiciously like they were taken from imdb they lace the commentary with small tidbits and factoids, along with cast and crew trivia. They also bring plenty of their own opinions on the film, labelling it as a modern day western and happily poking fun at all of its gay subtext. The pair talk a little about their personal life experiences, with childhood tales and film making, which somehow relates to the feature. The best moments, however, are when they dig out an endless supply of Dalton facts, which have obviously been influenced by the now legendary Chuck Norris ones. Throughout the commentary they go back to these and while some are truly awful, many are absolutely hilarious in an equally bad way. Expect a lot of tears from laughing so hard. A very nice track that surprisingly delivers some worthwhile info and a fun tone.
Remember VH1’s “pop-up video”? This track works in much the same way. A subtitle stream rallies off a series of facts throughout the film, and being that it’s remarkably similar to “pop-up video” in tone you can naturally expect to read a lot of useless stuff, including facts that bear no relation to the film and a lot that tries to be funny. However there are one or two moments where it stays on track and offers a little info on cast members. All in all though there’s certainly nothing here to warrant the viewer spending close to two hours trawling through.
“On the Road House” (17.20)
This brand new documentary takes a fond look back at the making of Road House, with newly recorded interviews with Rowdy Herrington, Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Brent Simon (critic), Jeff Healey, Marshall Teague and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. Herrington explains that modern western angle, while trying to keep a kind of cartoony element (monster trucks etc). He also talks a little about the fight sequences and certain inspirations. Patrick Swayze flits between serious and tongue in cheek mode. On one had he gets very much into discussing Dalton’s peaceful warrior side and exploring his dark past, but then he loosens up and has a laugh over the mullet, the crazy dialogue and sex scenes. He also talks a little about the fights, which were in fact choreographed by Benny the Jet; something which I had no idea when writing the review. In turn Benny is also interviewed and he talks about developing a style for Swayze and praising his skills highly. Marshall Teague lets us in on some facts as he discusses the fight sequences and fan reactions, while Kelly Lynch takes us through things with a very dry sense of humour as she talks about the style of the time, working with Swayze and reacting to the film’s overall success. Jeff Healey discusses performing the songs and mouthing quite bad lines of dialogue as he recalls an interesting time in his career.
“Sneak Peek - Road House 2: Last Call” (5.21)
Although it’s very brief this actually covers a fair amount of ground. The new film follows the life of Dalton’s son as he tries to clean up a town run by a drug baron. Yea, nothing new, but at least they haven’t just tried to get a different actor in to play Dalton. We get interviews with lead actor Jonathon Schaech and supporting actors Ellen Hollman, the awesome Richard Norton who plays the main baddie and Jake Busey. Musician James Otto talks a little about setting the right tone and director Scott Ziehl promises a bigger big. Stunt Coordinator J.J Perry discusses fights, and rather worryingly the addition of wire work, which feels out of place in a production like this, but he promises some good stuff. Road House 2: Last Call doesn’t sound like it’ll be amazing and to be honest I can’t see myself paying to own it on DVD.
”What Would Dalton Do?” (12.23)
Want to know what it’s really like being a bouncer? Here we get interviews with real life coolers and bouncers, such as “Big Mo” , Andrew, Sean, Cesar, “Bear”, Riley and Robert. There’s a few things to learn; differences between cooler and bouncer, real life situations etc. While there are moments of interest it’s not exactly a must see piece. There’s also some dopey black and white re-enactment footage included which is meant to present a situation for Dalton to deal with, and so the guys on the feature address us with how they’d handle these. They obviously enjoy their work and dig Road House, despite some of its ridiculous moments, carrying enough enthusiasm for this short featurette.
Previews for The James Bond Collection, Population 436 and Freedomland finish off the disc.
Now I know this is going to sound like such a little thing, but I really wish that MGM had included the original theatrical trailer. I love trailers on my DVD and if only the disc had that extra little push. Disappointing.
Road House never received any critical acclaim to my knowledge and to be honest I’m not surprised. By rights it really shouldn’t be any good, but I see no reason to sit down and belittle it for being so wonderfully entertaining. This has it all: great action, great performances, fine woman (with equally fine boobies) and some of the best dialogue you’ll ever hear on film. Screw the cynics. Just go out and buy this underrated gem and if you don’t enjoy it then I personally will not give you any refund.
Last updated: 31/05/2018 02:51:08