Shitty Movie Sundays: Road House

Looking at the list of films I’ve reviewed for Shitty Movie Sundays, there are some real standouts. Most of the films on the list are of such substandard quality that I am genuinely concerned I am wasting precious time in my life that I will never get back when I watch them (Galaxy of Terror, I Spit on Your Grave, Theodore Rex, for example), while others, despite being bad movies, are entertaining. Spacehunter, Raise the Titanic, Reign of Fire, Commando, The Keep — all shitty movies, and all eminently watchable. When I think of my affinity for shitty movies, it is flicks like these that keep me searching for the next great dog.

I didn’t have to search for Road House. I have seen it many times. Anyone who had basic cable in the 1990s in the United States has seen Road House at least once. Ted Turner must like the movie, because it felt like TNT used to show it two or three times a month. I bet it’s second only to The Shawshank Redemption for TNT showings.

Road House is one of the best shitty movies ever made, and it has a legitimate argument for being the best shitty movie of all time. A rundown of the plot will show the ingredients director Rowdy Herrington was working with.

A roving bouncer/bar manager by the name of Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is hired by Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to clean up his bar, the Double Deuce, in the small town of Jasper, Missouri. The Double Deuce is a violent place. All the knuckleheads west of the Mississippi River seem to want to drink there, and fight there, and buy drugs there, and fight some more, and commit savage acts of felonious assault...Have I mentioned that the Double Deuce is a violent place? Because it is, beyond all bounds of reason. The place is one long continuous brawl plucked right out of old western cinema. Bottles fly with abandon and smack off of people’s heads. Table and chairs are smashed to smithereens, destroying the bar’s stock of furnishings on a nightly basis.

To say the Double Deuce is an unrealistic depiction of even the most rough and tumble bars is an understatement. The place is a cartoon, and absolutely wonderful. If this place existed in real life, and I knew Dalton was on his way to administer some barroom justice, I would go there every freaking night. It’s absurd. And so is Dalton.

Dalton is as much myth as man. Behind the rugged exterior lies the soul of a philosopher. That’s not an overinflated estimation, either. In one scene in the movie, it is revealed that Dalton has a degree in philosophy from NYU. He’s the thinking man’s ass kicker.

He does a quick job cleaning up the bar — firing all the drug dealers and thieves on staff, and expelling undesirable clientele. He’s so efficient, in fact, that the movie could have wrapped up after about a half hour, were it not for the true villain terrorizing the town: Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Brad Wesley is a tyrant; a man who rules over Jasper with an iron fist, extorting protection money from every single business in town, including the Double Deuce. Wesley doesn’t seem to know how protection money works, though. His thugs will bust up a local business that doesn’t have an outstanding debt. Come on, Brad. Be nice. If they pay, there’s no reason to go causing any damage. But Wesley is a total scumbag. He’s another essential element in the absurdist pastiche that is Road House. There is no element of the film that could exist without the whole, Wesley included.

By the point Dalton and Wesley lock horns, the plot hardly matters anymore. It was necessary only to get these two pissed off at each other. Afterwards, the movie writes itself. There are a whole lot of fights, lamentations for lost co-stars (poor Sam Elliott, who had the best part in the film), and finally, of course, bloody denouement.

All of this film is completely ridiculous. It’s the culmination of ’80s action machismo. This flick was the Fast and Furious of its day, without all the sequels, and without all the disrespect modern action films show towards their audiences. It’s a simple and stupid film, with an empty plot full of wooden performances, yet it is endless fun. Road House is why I watch shitty movies.

Road House is a better film than Alien: Resurrection. The tally so far: 63 wins for Alien: Resurrection versus 35 losses and 1 tie.