R001 Road House

(1989, Action, color)


Mike Nelson

Pain don’t hurt.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A world-famous bouncer saves a small town from an evil businessman.


He's world famous in Kentucky.What do world famous bouncers study in college? Philosophy, of course. And what does this philosophy degree make them want to do to people? Rip their throats out! This is gradually revealed over the course of the film, but I thought you might like to know at the beginning because it’s so crucial to understanding our hero, the world’s second most famous bouncer Dalton (Patrick Swayze). Or…maybe it isn’t, but they sure act like it’s important. You be the judge.

Dalton works at a swanky big-city bar with a team of polo-shirted musclemen. Or at least he did until Frank, owner of rough-and-tumble roadside bar The Double Deuce, hired him away to clean his place up. Dalton shows up in his new town, rents a barn loft from a crotchety farmer, and observes a bar fight at his new place of employ.

First order of business: clean up the bar. This involves firing the stupid, greedy, and overly violent employees. He instructs the remainder in the art of moving fights outside where they won’t cause as much property damage. The alterations go into effect; various fights are either fought or avoided; and the Double Deuce’s reputation improves.

But local evil businessman Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara) catches wind of the Double Deuce’s success and is not pleased. This is his town, you see, and some of the stupid, greedy, and overly violent former employees of the Double Deuce are his relatives/friends. Dalton gets word to join Wesley and take back his former employees, or else. Dalton naturally chooses “else.”

He's about to punch the cameraman in the nuts.This starts an old-fashioned gangster crackdown in which Wesley alternates between old standbys like “setting things on fire when no one’s looking” and strong-arm tactics that would make the Gestapo blush, like “driving a monster truck through the auto dealerships of those who oppose him.” In the midst of the escalating violence, the world’s first most famous bouncer, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott) drops in on his old friend Dalton to lend a hand.

Eventually, a particularly obnoxious Wesley henchman tries to kill Dalton’s landlord in the middle of the night. Dalton catches him in the act. Martial arts ensue, and the henchman’s throat is ripped right out of his neck. (Because of the philosophy degree, I think.) Dalton’s doctor girlfriend (Kelly Lynch) sees the fight’s grisly end and flees in horror.

Later, Wesley calls Dalton with a friendly remonstrance, and to let him know that since he killed one of Wesley’s men, he gets to kill someone of Dalton’s. Wesley gives him a choice between the doctor girlfriend and Garrett. Dalton declines the decision, so Wesley flips a coin. Dalton rushes off to defend his now ex-girlfriend. She refuses to have anything to do with him, but it’s okay…sort of, since it turns out the coin toss was in her favor. Dalton finds Garrett’s corpse sprawled across the bar when he gets back.

Of course the only logical response to this outrage is a killing spree that involves guns, knives, a flaming luxury car, and a falling hunting trophy. In the end, the townsfolk come to his aid, blasting Wesley with many different shotguns from a variety of angles. The guns are hidden as the cops approach; when they arrive, no one will admit to knowing how all the carnage happened. The doctor overcomes her anti-killer prejudices to make up with her blood-soaked boyfriend, and then, presumably, everyone heads back to the Double Deuce for complimentary round.

Purported to be Based on a True Story.


Here we see Dalton adopting an aggressive Kierkegaard stance.Road House. Giving these words utterance reminds me of Peter Cook, a British comedian with no link whatsoever to this film. I think of him because I quite enjoyed his portrayal of The Impressive Clergyman in Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, a character who, for no discernable reason, replaces all his R’s with W’s. “Woad House,” is what he would call this movie, which immediately makes me think of a snarling Pictish Patrick Swayze with twigs in his dense, matted mullet and blue paint covering his face in swirling patterns...

Why I would string together this particular sequence of non sequiturs is more than a little baffling. I suspect my subconscious is trying to distract me from thinking too hard about this movie. Goofy, clichéd, and filled with good-natured violence, it’s perfectly acceptable and perhaps even enjoyable as background entertainment, but would completely collapse under any kind of scrutiny. Best just to let sleeping world famous movie bouncers lie.

This is Mike’s first made-for-Rifftrax commentary track, and his first comment, regarding a pair of sexy female legs in high heels, is “Hey, Ed Wood is in this picture.” Shortly thereafter, when Swayze states he doesn’t take planes, Mike replies, “I dance my way to places.” Most of the commentary works this way, funny, but unobtrusive, all the way to the hilarious end credits, during which Mike narrates the subsequent life of every character who ever appeared on screen, every one of which ends with a violent and tragic death. (Enjoy it, because as of this writing, it’s the only time he ever stays to riff on end credits.) It’s a brash, goofy film, and Mike’s commentary, though not hilarious, is amusing enough to ramp up the movie’s natural goofiness up several notches.