Twenty-five years ago on this very day, James Dalton stepped into the Double Deuce bar in Jasper, Missouri for the first time ever, and in the process established one of the greatest cult classic films of all-time. The 1989 action movie Road House never won any Oscars, nor was it ever nominated for anything other than five Razzies. But this $15 million movie from United Artists and Silver Pictures wasn’t ever written or filmed to make the critics trip over their own spectacular words of praise, and it definitely wasn’t produced with the idea of dumptrucks filled with golden award statues being backed up to Joel Silver’s Hollywood home. It was simply a movie that allowed Patrick Swayze to kick an awful lot of ass while looking cool doing it.
For a movie that was considered among the worst of 1989, Road House still carries a not-terrible critic score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, that’s a lot like a kid in class bragging that his F wasn’t the lowest failing grade, but when you think of the truly worst films in any given year, you’re typically thinking of the Bucky Larsons that score less than 10 or even 5%. But what has probably helped Road House after all these years is the fact that we see it now, most likely on TNT at 3 AM, and we love it. We have to watch it, because it’s so insanely ridiculous that a lot of us can’t even imagine how someone doesn’t at least appreciate how unintentionally hilarious it is.
After all, this is a movie about a professional bouncer, or “cooler,” who travels from bar to bar across the nation to help owners eliminate their bad customers so they can thrive. Even better, this is about a bar in Jasper, Missouri (of course, it was filmed in Reedley, California, where our own Vince Mancini hails from), and that town that you’ve never heard of is controlled by an evil man named Brad Wesley and his psychopath henchman, Jimmy, and the only man who can not only save the Double Deuce, but the entire town, is Dalton.
Sadly, as I write this love note to a movie that Ron White once implied was pornography for modern bar security, both of the actors who played the main characters – Swayze as Dalton and Ben Gazzara as Wesley – have passed away, each from pancreatic cancer. But I’m not here to ask “Did you know?” like my colleague Joel Stice, who does that better than anyone in this blogging game. Instead, I just want to celebrate some of the important life lessons that I’ve taken from Road House that fans of this movie probably still cherish all these years later.
“Pain don’t hurt.”
You can hate this movie all you want. You can call it the worst piece of fecal disaster that any human being has ever produced, and you could shout until you lose your voice that Road House makes Battlefield Earth look like Star Wars. But this movie gave us classic lines at the very least, and there’s not an action-movie-loving child of the 80s whose face won’t light up as soon as you say the words, “Pain don’t hurt.” Pain, as it turns out, does hurt a lot, but I believe that this iconic scene actually taught most of us as boys and young men that no matter how bad we want to scream out and cry, we shouldn’t do it in front of a doctor who looks like Kelly Lynch.
(I said I wouldn’t do the Did You Know routine, but speaking of Lynch, I still absolutely love the story of how Bill Murray calls her husband, Mitch Glazer, every time he watches to make jokes about Lynch’s sex scene with Swayze. This is why we love Murray so much.)
“Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”
Of all the ass-kickers patrolling bars in the middle of America, Dalton was a Zen master. He was a poet warrior and a dying breed, a man who believed in fighting his fights with his words until it was time to kick a guy’s kneecap through his leg and drag him screaming through the front doors of the Deuce. But how do you fight a fight with words? Always be smarter than the next guy.
Steve: Being called a cocksucker isn’t personal?
Dalton: No. It’s two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.
Steve: What if somebody calls my mama a whore?
Dalton: Is she?
If you can make a guy react in disgust and “How dare you, sir!” outrage the way that Dalton does with Steve, then you’ve mastered being nice.
Age ain’t nothing but a number when it comes to kicking ass.
A lot of people will tell you that Tombstone was Sam Elliott’s best movie, but they’re wrong. If you ask me 100 times, I’ll tell you Road House again and again. I was pretty young when I saw Road House for the first time, and Wade Garrett looked like my grandfather. So when he showed up to rescue Dalton from Wesley’s men on the loading dock, I was fascinated by the old guy with the mustache beating up the sweaty rednecks. If anything, it was a message to those of us who think that being young offers an advantage in combat that sometimes an old dude just has nothing to lose.
Terry Funk, the actor > Hulk Hogan, the actor.
Young wrestling fans these days, with their John Cena as The Marine and the Miz on an episode of Psych, don’t know what a real professional wrestler mainstream crossover looks like. While Hulk Hogan was trying to prove to Hollywood that he was a leading man in 1989’s No Holds Barred, Terry Funk was just a guy trying to earn his actors guild credits, and he did so as Morgan, who was one of Wesley’s most trusted goons. We don’t celebrate Funk’s performance in this film nearly enough, but if he’s out there somewhere, I hope he comes across this and knows that at least one person thinks he’s one of the best wrestlers-turned-actors in the game. (Roddy Piper’s still the best, though.)
In the 80s, bars were nothing but fights and table dances.
I’ll always be fascinated by 80s movies in general, mainly because I want to know if all of the biggest problems affecting high school and college students were solved by strange competitive dick-measuring in sports like skiing and diving. Also, did every high school student actually look 35 or was that just a John Hughes contribution to the era? Regardless, the Double Deuce blew my mind because I wondered then (and even now) if that’s what Midwestern rock bars were actually like. Did drunk a-holes just start fights and try to kill each other over women dancing semi-nude on tables? Obviously, people still try to kill each other in bars and clubs today, but back in the 80s it just looked so much cooler, especially when Dalton intervened and Jimmy suddenly decided to use a pool cue as a ninja weapon.
Anyone can look and sound awesome by just retelling the story of Dalton and the Double Deuce.
What pisses me off about Road House has nothing to do with the movie, as much as it does with the unprotected artistic integrity. There has already been a horrendous sequel that starred Jake Busey’s teeth, and a remake of the original has been in the works for some time. What actor wants to fill Swayze’s white karate shirt? Sure, some unknown guy is going to come along and call himself Dalton at some point, but we won’t accept him. The only way I’ll ever accept a retelling of Road House will be from Andy Dwyer.
Everyone can sing.
Often when discussing the deceased stars of this film, the conversation begins and ends with Swayze and Gazzara, but we should never ever forget what an incredibly talented musician Jeff Healey was, as he, too, lost his battle with cancer in 2008. One of my favorite unimportant scenes of Road House – that’s right, I’ve categorized just about every scene – involves Healey’s band and the spunky waitress, Carrie, who was played by Kathleen Wilhoite, still going strong as an actress today.
Once Dalton returned the Double Deuce to glory, and it was finally safe for the good, fun-loving people of Jasper and its surrounding cities to come get drunk and then drive home, Carrie joined Cody’s band on stage – now free of the chicken wire barrier that somehow protected the band from the shards of glass from broken bottles – and she was suddenly this awesome singer. I love the scene because Wilhoite did this hilarious little thing like Carrie couldn’t believe that she was singing on stage (around the :23 mark), and that’s one of my favorite stupid, meaningless movie quirks that always jumps out at me.
If enough people conspire to murder a man in cold blood in his home, the police will look the other way.
The end of Road House is so much deeper than just a man being pushed too far and choosing his primal instinct for revenge over the love of a woman. It’s about an entire town that has been pushed too far by one man, Brad Wesley, and the lengths that some of the business owners that he hurt would go to make him pay. Ultimately, Red, Emmett, Stroudenmire and Tilghman gunned Wesley down in his own home, and they hid the weapons and told the police that they had no clue what happened. Then they all laughed and Dalton got to have sex with the hot doctor again. The end.
What a ridiculously concise and convenient ending. You make that movie today, and Tinker’s probably Tweeting about how he was crushed by a polar bear, and some business reporter with a hard-on for justice for the 1% is probably on a cable news show demanding to know why the cops are protecting a bar bouncer who doesn’t even report his earnings to the government. The best they could do now would be to get Wesley’s goons for burning down Red’s store, if they could even pin that on them. Bottom line, you just can’t kill a bad guy like you used to.
People shouldn’t yell things about having sex with other people in prison while they fight.
It took me a few years to understand what Jimmy meant when he told Dalton that he used to “f*ck guys like you in prison.” I imagine that any child who has watched this movie probably didn’t understand that line very well, but even as I get it now, I still don’t know… why. If a guy yelled that at me while we fought to the death, I’d probably be really confused, and he’d kill me first because I wouldn’t be able to stop asking him, “Wait, why would you tell people that?”
Please don’t ever tear out my throat, thank you.
Nope, I would not appreciate losing a fight by having my throat torn out. I do believe that would suck.
But do you know what doesn’t suck? Road House. Here’s to another 25 years of one of the greatest terrible movies ever made.