If a Hollywood studio locked my 11-year-old self and his friends in a room and handed us $10 million to make our ultimate movie, we’d produce quite a compelling train wreck. We would include big trucks and muscle cars, ‘cause they make a lot of noise and we all loved Dukes of Hazzard. There would be fist fight after fist fight after fist fight, culminating in a take-no-prisoners, kung-fu collision.
Both men and women would walk around semi-clothed. Most of the action would take place in a bar ‘cause, well, that’s where all the cool adult stuff takes place. The hero would be superficially complex and bionically tough. The villain would not just be evil, but evil to such a degree that death would be the only appropriate punishment for his sins.
Nobody would actually produce something like that, right? Wrong. You obviously never visited the ‘80s, where, after an eight ball or two, no film was too high-concept.
In 1989, Die Hard producer Joel Silver, director Rowdy (no, that’s not a joke—dude’s name was really Rowdy) Herrington, and the Swayze (always pronounced as one syllable) teamed up to make every 11-year-old boy’s fantasy of the adult world. The film, Road House, stands testament to a time before ironic awareness trickled down to even the least-discerning pop consumer. Road House takes us back to a much simpler world- a world where you can measure a man’s virility by how well-groomed a mullet he sports and how much glistening man-oil he secretes while practicing tai-chi.
The Swayze’s Dalton is a cooler, an uber-bouncer hired by clubs who can’t prevent the pie fight scene from Blazing Saddles occurring every evening on their premises. But he’s not just a cooler. No, he’s also a graduate of NYU’s philosophy program who relaxes by reading Legends of the Fall with his shirt off.
The proprietor of Jasper, Missouri hellmouth the Double Duce takes Dalton on to clean up his club. How rough is the Double Duce? It’s the kind of place which provides unauthorized mammary exams. It’s the kind of place where patrons whip half-empty beer bottles at blind slide-guitarists working in a cage. For real.
After a misunderstanding during his first shift, Dalton finds himself at the local hospital, where he falls for the gorgeous physician.They inevitably make sweet, sweet love in an outtake from Dirty Dancing. While cleaning up the club, Dalton butts heads with local sadist Brad Wesley (played by Ben Gazzera, unaware John Cassavetes is not on set). Wesley runs the neighborhood chaos stand, and can order a Big Foot to drive through a Ford dealership, in front of the whole town, without drawing any attention from authorities. Oh, and by the way, Brad also pines for the gorgeous physician, despite the facts that he is old enough to be her father and hosts pool parties which would make Hugh Hefner blush.
Dalton, of course, eventually cleans up the town. Wesley lives long enough to catch bullets from the entire Jasper Chamber of Commerce. Blind slide-guitarists play, uncaged. Roll credits.
So why can’t men of my generation turn away from this film? Why not Out for Justice? Or Bloodsport? Or, shudder, Tango & Cash? What makes Road House different than any of the other over-testosteroned, homoerotic slices of screen sadism served to filmgoers throughout the ‘80s?
Two words. The Swayze (stop pronouncing it with two syllables!).
No single male movie star more ably balanced the ‘80s requirements of inflicting sociopathic levels of violence while never wrinkling one crease of their pretty-boy image. The Swayze’s film are more feature-length music videos than anything else. He is more aware of us watching him than we are of him. From the moment he leads the Greasers into the rumble scene in The Outsiders by doing the flip over the fence, the Swayze has us—lock, stock, and barrel. Like Roy Stalin in Better Off Dead, women want him and men want to be him.