In this Soundtrack review we look at this much maligned Patrick Swayze film, the kick ass contributions from the blind white blues singer Jeff Healey, and and ask why is such a stupid movie so much fun?
There are certain movies, and everyone has them, which due to them being a part of your adolescent life make an impact that never seems to diminish. Quite often these movies aren’t classics or major Oscar-winning works of art, and in many cases they might not even be that good and yet you return to them time and time again and every time you do you manage to draw the same pleasure from them as you did in that nascent part of your life when you were too naive to know any better. For me and my life that movie is Road House.
I can’t quite remember when I first saw this movie but I do know it was one that me and my male friends watched repeatedly when we were in our late teens. Even at that time we kind of knew it was bad, but the good kind of bad, enjoyably bad. As I grew older I think part of me expected to grow out of it in the same way I had grown out of listening to Iron Maiden or drinking Special Brew but every now and then it would pop up on TV, usually late at night on some nether channel, and I would find myself irresistibly drawn to it in much the same way a dog finds it hard to resist a pile of vomit. A few years ago I ended up buying a copy on DVD (it was £3) and ever since it tends to get an annual outing (of course I also still watch it on TV if I see it), and for a couple of hours I’ll disengage my thought processes and revel in the sheer dumbness of it all.
Doc: I’ll give you a local
Dalton: No thanks
Doc: Do you enjoy pain?
Dalton: Pain don’t hurt
And let’s be clear about this – Road House is so dumb it should come with a do-it-yourself lobotomy kit as a viewing aid. In fact if you watched it on repeat a few times I’m sure the effect would be pretty similar. It’s dumber than a Nana Mouskouri impersonator at a Grease party, dumber than a weightlifter wondering why his dumb bell doesn’t ring when he shakes it, dumber than a Fox news terrorism expert (ok, that last one may be pushing things a bit too far…). The point is that this isn’t a cerebral movie with a clever subtext or underlying message. It is what it is. And it is dumb.
Released in 1989, Road House stars Patrick Swayze as Dalton, the best damn ‘cooler’ (a head bouncer to you and me) in the business who is hired by the new owner of the Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri to clean the place up, something which involves it getting smashed to bits a few times in the process. He runs in to trouble when he comes up against local big-time criminal businessman Brad Wesley who runs a protection racket and isn’t too happy about Dalton and his bosses reluctance to pay up. Much kicking and punching ensues as Dalton calls in his old (as in nearing retirement) friend Wade Garrett, played by Sam Elliott, to help him kick and punch his way through Wesley’s henchmen before a final showdown with the man himself. Wesley is ultimately killed not by Dalton but instead by the Double Deuce owner and three other locals (they have names and roles in the film, but there’s no point in getting too deep with such a thin plot…) who blast him with shotguns and then hide them, covering each other with an alibi.
Morgan: You know, I heard you had balls big enough to come in a dump truck, but you don’t look like much to me.
Dalton: Opinions vary
There’s a bit more to it than that, including the obligatory love interest played by Kelly Lynch, and an actually pretty nifty soundtrack (more of which in a moment) but basically that’s your lot. The plot’s entire premise works under the assumption that law enforcement is completely non-existent in Missouri, with the police only making an appearance right at the end, and even then making no arrests despite a trail of destruction and dead bodies scattered everywhere.
What redeems Road House, for me anyway, is that this is a movie that clearly has no pretensions to be anything other than it is. It’s a big, stupid, masculine (if girls have chick-flicks then this is definitely a bloke-flick) action movie and taken on that level it’s quite simply lots of fun. Yes, we find out at one point that Dalton has a degree in philosophy but when the Doc asks what he majored in he replies “Man’s search for faith. That sort of shit” as if to suggest that whilst this is supposed to add depth to his character we shouldn’t think it adds too much depth. Ultimately the film doesn’t need any large amount of gravitas. No-one is trying to win an Oscar here.
Dalton: So, you play pretty good for a blind white boy.
Cody (Jeff Healey): Yeah, and I thought you’d be bigger.
The other redemptory factor is the music, and oh how it redeems. It was a genuine masterstroke to cast blind, white blues singer Jeff Healey as the leader of the house band and their versions of things like ‘Roadhouse Blues’ by The Doors and Willie Dixon’s ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’ rock, roll and rumble providing the perfect hard-hitting soundtrack to people getting hit really hard. Healey recorded his scenes for the film at the same time as he was recording his debut album See The Light and the film played no small part in introducing a man who was already well known on the American blues scene to a much wider audience.
Doc: Did you ever win a fight?
Dalton: Nobody ever wins a fight
Ultimately Road House simply entertains and entertains simply. It may not be everyone’s thing and I can perfectly understand why. However, to be snobbish about it is to kind of miss the point. As with much music, not all movies are aiming to make some grand artistic statement or to leave you ruminating over a deeper philosophical message. This movie doesn’t dazzle or aim to enrich your life and that’s exactly why I love it. It’s just fun. Big dumb fun. And from time to time we all need a bit of that in our lives.