Patrick Swayze was 37 years old when he took the role of the “Cooler” simply known as Dalton in 1989’s Road House. Swayze stood a mere 5’ 10” and probably weighed all of 160 pounds at the time of filming the movie. While height and weight were no serious impediment for a Hollywood actor in the late 1980s, in the real world of nightclub bouncing, size really would have mattered. As a bartender in 1989-1993 who worked a few big clubs in England, I got to hang out with a LOT of bouncers and in all likelihood, they might have simply eaten Swayze as a light snack; I can’t really imagine anybody would have been intimidated by the short, skinny form of Swayze sporting a feathered mullet at the door. Still, he had the moves and the movie has a sense of humor about its casting. I thought you’d be bigger, was a catchphrase strung throughout the length of the movie and has enjoyed some longevity as an internet meme.
Some 27 years after seeing Road House at a local movie theater in England, it remains one of my favorite, guiltiest viewing pleasures. From neon lit nightclubs, country music, naked ladies and simulated sex scenes to the best “rage dance fight” scenes you can see for your money, nobody offered what Road House was serving up that hot Summer.
The set-up is simple. Swayze plays the ultimate bouncer any nightclub can hire. It’s clear he’s in demand. He’s so good, in fact, nobody even calls him a bouncer. They refer to his job as a “Cooler”. He’s like a strategically minded general commanding his pawns like, minion soldier bouncers.
Dalton: “If somebody gets in your face and calls you a [EXPLETIVE], 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.”
This soliloquy results in one of the dissatisfied bouncers asking Dalton what he should do if somebody calls his mama a whore? Dalton’s laconic response? “Is she?” Oh, damn! You did not just say that.
We first see Dalton in his current job. It’s a chic nightclub in New York City. It’s got wall to wall neon lights, rocking music, high end booze and a long legged female clientele. When a fight breaks out, Dalton takes care of it by actually avoiding violence, leading the aggressors outside where he leaves them stunned, calling him a coward. Dalton don’t care; Dalton is straight Zen. As he says to his sexy lady ER doctor later in the movie, “Nobody EVER wins a fight”.
Dalton is invited to join a new fixer-upper nightclub in Missouri called The Double Deuce. Maybe it’s the challenge of a new hole to fix. Maybe he’s bored avoiding fights in NYC. Maybe he wants to work at a place where there’s a sign over the urinal that reads, “Don’t eat the big white mint.” Whatever the reason, Dalton takes his skinny ass from NYC to Missouri via Mercedes because as he states, “I don’t like to fly… Too dangerous.” This is the stuff of character development in Road House.
Dalton arrives at the Double Deuce to check out the local scene. It turns out to be mostly a hick affair, but then Jeff Healy, who was lucky enough to join a band called the Jeff Healy Band, happens to be playing behind chicken wire and is an old friend of Dalton. When asked to describe what Dalton’s story is, he mysteriously replies, “Cross him, and he’ll seal your fate”.
Dalton takes the job and begins to clean up the Double Deuce, taking more of an interest in cleaning up the bar than the owner who technically has the most to gain, but has restricted himself to humorously changing, “For a good [EXPLETIVE], call XXX-XXX-XXXX” scribbles on the wall to “For a good BiUCK, call ….” Hilarious. And productive active management.
The Double Deuce turns out to have the typical problems associated with a hick nightclub in Missouri. “[W]e’ve got entirely too many troublemakers here. Too many 40-year-old adolescents, felons, power drinkers and trustees of modern chemistry.” Dalton’s here to take out the trash, starting with the bottom 10% of employees who will later return to try to kick his ass. Good luck!
It’s at this point in the movie, just when things are going really well for the Double Deuce’s newest star employee, that we’re introduced to one of the purest forms of evil ever seen in a Hollywood movie. Hannah Arendt once referred to the “Banality of Evil” in regards to Adolf Eichmann for his part in the Nazi organized genocides in the 1940s. Banality of evil could also apply to Brad Wesley.
Honestly, it’s hard to look into this face of evil without wondering about his motivation. Brad Wesley is portrayed so convincingly, with such banality, by Ben Gazzara, that we’re stumped if we can figure him out. Dalton really has his work cut out too, clearly destined to fight this middle-aged, whitebread villain with a penchant for hunting and taxidermy. Brad isn’t Dalton’s only challenge though, Brad also employs a pet “war dog” known as Jimmy, who has the most curious hobby of any action movie villain ever. Apparently, he used to [EXPLETIVE] guys like Dalton/Patrick Swayze while he was in prison. He seems rather proud of this fact.
Dalton and Brad Wesley are put on a titanic collision course after Dalton fires Brad’s “weakly constituted” nephew for skimming the cash register at the Double Deuce. Brad retaliates by blocking the beer supply to the Deuce. What will happen to the Double Deuce if its patrons can’t drink what passes for beer there? It becomes apparent to Dalton that the entire small town of Hickville is controlled by Brad, but Dalton has his own unlimited connections. A brief phone call is all he needs to get the lite beer dribbling out the Deuce beer taps again. Meanwhile, Dalton’s old friend, Wade Garrett, makes his first appearance. Yay! Wade is played by the fascinating Sam Elliott, who really deserves to be in a much better movie and seems like he knows it.
Brad is forced to take a more direct approach after “Operation Lite Beer Block” fails. He starts a ruckus in the Double Deuce, first showing off the bountiful assets of his girlfriend, slash jazzercise instructor, to tempt Dalton, then follows up with a martial arts clinic from “I used to [EXPLETIVE] guys like you in prison” Jimmy. This results in a bar fight between Jimmy and the other bouncers under Dalton’s command. The fight ends finally when Brad puts a bullet in the ceiling and declares, “This isn’t working Dalton.” Maybe he’s talking about the scene.
From here, things just get crazy. Dalton starts dating Brad’s former girlfriend who’s a hot ER nurse with “entirely too many brains to have an ass like that”. She’s apparently won over by the fact that Dalton has a degree in Philosophy from NYU, specializing in “Man’s search for meaning or some crap like that” and his doctrine that, “Pain don’t hurt”. Well, obviously, it does!
Despite having too many brains for her ass, the female love interest, whom the IMDB simply lists as “Doc” on the cast list, tries to persuade Dalton not to go up directly against Brad because he’ll be killed. Dalton has no choice though. No action movie star ever does. First Brad starts blowing up the homes of his new old geezer friends in the town, then starts crushing their businesses with a monster truck. They’ve got insurance though, right? Right? Finally, one of Brad’s goons finds Dalton’s weak spot by killing his old Cooler pal, Wade Garrett, with a hunting knife and Sam Elliott collects his paycheck and hobbles off.
The scene is now set for Jimmy and Dalton to finally have their fight to the death. Jimmy starts a fire near Dalton’s current pad and we seeing him riding away on a motorcycle. This scene is notable among ALL action movies because of the way Jimmy laughs like The Joker as he speeds away – or maybe that’s just how a paid stuntman who got promoted to his first and last acting role in a major Hollywood action movie would do it. What the heck? That scene will probably be edited out and end up on the cutting room floor, right? Nope.
Dalton arabesques over to Jimmy and pulls him off his motorcycle. He then performs some kind of dance-like martial arts style that confounds Jimmy who gets his leg trapped in a tree and twisted before having his throat torn out by Dalton who goes all Bruce Lee on him. Dalton spin kicks Jimmy’s carcass unceremoniously kicked into the lake, bringing an end to his days of [EXPLETIVE] guys like Dalton in prison.
Now Dalton’s really super pissed because he’s been pushed back into his old throat tearing ways. He decides he doesn’t even care if his Mercedes is shot up and explodes with an awesome triple barrel roll while on fire – he’s so mad at Brad for all his shenanigans.
Dalton morphs from Cooler/Bouncer/Zen Master/Ballet expert to Navy Seal in the last scene of Road House. He expertly takes out about four of Brad Wesley’s goons as if he’s channeling The Punisher. Then finally, it’s time to fight Brad Wesley. Now, you wouldn’t think that Brad would make much of an opponent after seeing Dalton chew his way through younger, tougher men who bodyguard for a living, but you’d be wrong. Brad draws on all his “old man strength” and golfing fitness to give Dalton a run for his money. Brad proves all those animal heads on his wall aren’t just for show. He earned them!
The two trade blows, each drawing blood. When Dalton finally gets the upper hand, literally, he refrains from performing another “throat pull” and lets Brad go. Unfortunately, Brad has no intention of not getting his Dalton trophy head on the wall and goes to shoot the Cooler, but is shot to death himself by three of the other people in the town he’s betrayed.
The final scene ends with the arrival of the police. One goon, Tinker, remains alive after a stuffed bear dropped on him. He declares that he doesn’t know what happened to his dead boss because, “A polar bear fell on me.” This apparently is just about the funniest thing anybody has ever said out loud in Hickville, because the men who executed another human being minutes before, literally crack up like they were in the final reel of a Scooby Doo cartoon.
End Scene. Roadhouse will return in Roadhouse 2: The really not very good one.