Today, I want to take a look at a beloved good-bad classic: 1989’s Road House.
The plot of Road House is summarized simply and eloquently on IMDb as follows:
A tough bouncer is hired to tame a dirty bar.
The screenplay for Road House had two credited writers: R. Lance Hill, who also wrote Out For Justice, and Hilary Henkin, who also penned Wag The Dog and Fatal Beauty.
Road House was directed by Rowdy Herrington, who also helmed the films Striking Distance, A Murder of Crows, and 1992’s Gladiator.
The primary cast of Road House is made up of Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Point Break), Kelly Lynch (Virtuosity, Mr. Magoo), Sam Elliott (Hulk, The Big Lebowski, Fatal Beauty), and Ben Gazzara (Happiness, Anatomy of a Murder, The Big Lebowski).
The cinematographer for the film was none other than Dean Cundey, one of the most acclaimed modern directors of photography, who boasts countless well-known credits like Halloween and Jurassic Park. He is known by many as the Dean of Darkness, due to his uncanny proficiency in filming and utilizing low light and shadow.
Road House had two primary editors: John Link, who also cut Steel, Die Hard, The Mighty Ducks, and Predator, and Frank J. Urioste, who edited Deep Blue Sea, RoboCop, The Hitcher, and Total Recall.
The music for Road House was provided by Michael Kamen, whose also composed scores for movies like X-Men, Event Horizon, Frequency, The Iron Giant, Hudson Hawk, Die Hard, Last Action Hero, Action Jackson, Highlander, and Brazil, among many others.
From December 2003 to February 2004, there was an off-Broadway musical titled “Road House: The Stage Version Of The Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From The 80’s Cult Classic “The Last Dragon” Wearing A Blonde Mullet Wig” that is exactly what it sounds like. Here’s a promotional photo:
Road House received 5 Golden Raspberry nominations as one of the worst films of 1989, competing in the categories of Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. Ultimately, it didn’t wind up winning any of them. However, it was eventually listed as one of the “100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made” in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide.
Patrick Swayze reportedly had to turn down lead roles in two other famously good-bad movies, Predator 2 and Tango & Cash, in order to do Road House.
The character of Dalton was reportedly named after Dalton, GA. R. Lance Hill, the movie’s writer, was particularly inspired after visiting a rowdy local bar in the town.
Interestingly, Annette Bening was originally cast opposite of Swayze in the role of Doc. She was ultimately replaced by Kelly Lynch, who claims that Bening was fired due to a lack of chemistry with Swayze.
Road House has the unique distinction of being the first movie to be subjected to “RiffTrax,” the Mike Nelson run follow-up to Mystery Science Theater 3000, which are distributed as scripted, comedic commentary tracks to be played simultaneously with films. Nelson previously labeled Road House as the cheesiest movie ever made in his book “Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese.”
According to Sam Elliott, all of the actors in Road House performed their own stunts. However, they were all done under the strict supervision of martial arts master Benny Urquidez, a noted kickboxing champion who worked on numerous theatrical productions as an advisor and coordinator.
Reportedly, there is a Road House remake coming up in the near future. Currently, it is set to star MMA icon Ronda Rousey, and has Nick Cassavetes attached to both write and direct.
Road House received a sequel many years after the fact in the form of Road House 2: Last Call, which was released straight to DVD in 2006.
In its lifetime domestic theatrical run, Road House grossed just a hair over $30 million, on an estimated production budget of $15 million. While this made the movie profitable, it didn’t resonate very well with critics. Over time, however, it has become a cult classic that has won over many.
Road House currently holds a user rating of 6.5/10 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 66% from general audiences and 38% from critics. Gene Siskel called the film “outrageous in terms of its cartoon-like plotting and dialogue,” and Roger Ebert wrote that Road House was “the kind of movie that leaves reality so far behind that you have to accept it on its own terms,” and that he “laughed more during [Road House] than during any of the so-called comedies I saw during the same week.”
Siskel and Ebert are both totally right about Road House: it is outrageous, it is completely divorced from reality, and it is funny as all hell because of it all.
I think that, at the very least, Swayze and Elliott deliver solid performances here, and are as believable as they could possibly be considering the outlandishness of the concept. That said, the villains are an entirely different case. I definitely appreciate over-the-top villainy in action movies, but the gang in Road House drift consistently too far into cartoonish territory, to the point that they stop feeling like much of a threat, in spite of their posturing.
I think the two things that most stuck with audiences about this movie were the fights and the one-liners, and they are unarguably the two strongest elements of the film. Depending on who you ask, these are two of the most important elements of any action movie. If that happens to be your rubric, then this is a hard movie to beat for entertainment value. However, if you go into it expecting anything beyond that, like character depth or a thought-provoking plot, you might just be disappointed.
Overall, I think that Road House is just about perfect for what it is: mindless, entertaining action. This isn’t deep, this isn’t social commentary, this isn’t character study: this is spectacle in a pure form. If that is what you want from a movie, Road House delivers.
For action movie fans, good-bad movie fans, Patrick Swayze fans, and arguably movie fans of any kind, Road House is worth seeing at least once. Despite its mixed reception and modest box office, the movie has managed to seep pretty deep into popular culture, making viewing a sort of educational event if you haven’t already. At least, you can tell yourself that.
In honor of the holiday season, and a true cult film classic, have yourselves a Patrick Swayze Christmas!