The film opens at a big swanky club. A fight breaks out, bouncers intervene… Then the legendary Dalton shows up. Patrick Swayze‘s not a gigantic motherfucker like Schwarzenegger or Stallone (“I thought you’d be bigger.”), but he’s muscular enough, he’s got a low growling voice and most importantly, he’s got badass attitude to spare. When someone stabs him in that opening sequence, he doesn’t even flinch (“Pain don’t hurt.”). He just takes the guy outside, then goes in the bathroom to stitch the wound closed. You can tell that this is nothing out of the ordinary for him. Oh, and he has a university degree in philosophy. And he does Tai Chi – with his shirt off, naturally.
The action truly kicks in when a bar owner from Jasper hires Dalton to come clean up his establishment, which has become overcome by thugs and low-lives. It truly feels like the wildest place on earth, filled as it is with brawls, broken beer bottles, booming beats (courtesy of The Jeff Healey Band), big boobs and bad blood. This must have inspired the Titty Twister scenes in From Dusk Till Dawn; all that’s missing is the vampires! Also, a bit further on, Dalton briefs the bar staff he’s gonna work with and this is almost exactly like the Joe Cabot briefing in Reservoir Dogs, down to that great line: “It’s my way or the highway.” In fact, there’s a strong Tarantino vibe through a lot of the film, with often comical bursts of violence and almost non-stop quotable dialogue.
The main villain, richest-man-in-town Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), is also kind of a Tarantino character, somewhere between Marsellus Wallace and Bill. He lords over his world with an iron fist, but he also has kind of a wicked sense of humor. “I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing that’s missing is… your ass.” Did I mention that this movie is incredibly homoerotic? I also love Sam Elliott as Wade Garrett, Dalton’s mentor, who shows up conveniently when things get really, really rough. “I’ll get all the sleep I need when I’m dead.”
Another priceless character is Marshall Teague‘s Jimmy. In one of the movie’s most kick-ass sequences, Jimmy blows up the farmhouse where Dalton is staying, then rides away while laughing like a maniac. Dalton, of course, won’t stand for that. He jumps off a second-floor window, runs after the motorcycle and charges it, throwing Jimmy to the ground. The subsequent kickboxing fight is pretty exciting, but mostly hilariously gay! Dalton is shirtless again and wearing tight sweatpants, and at some point Jimmy tells him that he “used to fuck guys like [him] in prison”! Then they kick each other some more and, just as he’s about to get beat out for good, Jimmy pulls out a gun… which Dalton promptly knocks off his hand before RIPPING HIS FUCKING THROAT OFF, Sonny Chiba-style!!!
“Road House” is a spectacularly dumb and macho movie, and I love it that way. I can’t believe I went so many years without this glorious piece of violent nonsense in my life. It’s not quite up to par with something like Commando, mostly because Patrick Swayze is just not as cool as Schwarzenegger, but it’s definitely in that ballpark. “A polar bear fell on me.”