“Pain don’t hurt,” proclaims Patrick Swayze’s Zen bar bouncer Dalton in Road House (1989), and that’s not even the pulpiest line in this swaggering, bare-knuckle action drama. At one point, Dalton actually utters the line “Prepare to die!” It’s that kind of movie.
Dalton is a former philosophy PhD who gave up empty ruminations for a life of broken bottles, drunken brawls, and tough guys who want to test the reputation of the famous barroom bouncer. He says he hates violence and is famous for keeping his cool in in rough situations… until it’s time to break out the moves. Then he’s unbeatable. And he’s got a new assignment: taming the rowdiest bar in Missouri.
Though it came after the era of inner-city grindhouses and rural drive-ins, this absurd yet wildly entertaining honky-tonk action pulp is perfect fodder for both. The Tai-chi practicing good ol’ boy romances an Emergency Room doctor known only as Doc (Kelly Lynch) and takes on small town crime boss Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara, appropriately amiable in his evil machinations), a smiling cobra who is willing to kill to keep his grip on the town.
The dime story philosophy is absurd but who cares amidst the bar fights and blood? Sam Elliott is his usual laconic self as Swayze’s drawling mentor, called in when the opposition crosses the line, and the Jeff Healey Band knocks out a few tunes amidst the action. And how appropriate is it that a guy named Rowdy Herrington directs the whole enterprise?
The reviews were not kind and it earned five Razzie Award nominations. It was also embraced for the very same action clichés and pulp machinations that critics berated it for and it became a cult favorite on home video. As Roger Ebert observed, “Road House” is the kind of movie that leaves reality so far behind that you have to accept it on its own terms.”
Is it good? That’s not really the right question. Is it fun? If pulp action is your thing, then the answer is: definitely.
Also features Kevin Tighe, Marshall Teague, and John Doe.
The special edition Blu-ray and DVD features two commentary tracks (by director Rowdy Herrington and by Road House fans Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier) and two featurettes.