Bad Movies To Love II: Roadhouse (1989)

Am I preaching to the choir now? I think EVERYONE knows how immensely entertaining this particular piece of crap is, because they’ve accidentally landed on it during one of its ubiquitous screenings on Spike TV and were HYP-NO-TIZED into watching because they had to know… Can this keep getting stupider?


This movie has everything! It has characters with names like Dalton, Wesley, Wade & Doc to let you know that it’s really a western, about a hired-gun (or hired fist in this case) brought in to town to clean up the joint by beating the shit out of everyone at the local bar. It has lots of mullet-headed rednecks as stock villains! It has wall-to-wall big haired ’80s skank-bims who look like they just lost a Judy Landers lookalike contest! It has fistfights – oh Good Lord does it have fistfights – explodin’ cars, shootin’ shotguns, sex in the great outdoors, and a final mano-a-mano battle between good guy Patrick Swayze and bad guy town tough Ben Gazzara…

Ben Gazzara??

The town tough?

He’s a medium-sized middle aged Jew! He looks like one of my father’s friends. I haven’t seen this kind of casting since I caught an old episode of McCloud where suit ‘n’ tie extortionists Lloyd Bochner and Eddie Albert’s street muscle was played by a leather jacketed Roddy McDowall. What does he do, threaten to beat you at chess?

Okay, perhaps Seymour Cassel wasn’t available. Gazzara has great fun with his villain role, however. We get to see him line up his squad of gooncrackers for a dressin’ down after Swayze has pounded the crap out of them the night before, and despite being what looks like several feet shorter than any of them, Gazzara singles one out and knocks him on his ass with a single punch. “That’ll teach ya to disrespect my work with Cassavetes!” he snarls. Okay, he doesn’t say that, but it’s STILL cool, and then he tells his middle manager goonboy to give the guy another dollar for taking the punch, and the idiot’s toothless grin tell us “Gawrsh, the boss likes me!”

Gazzara (Wesley) controls the town and wants to control the bar, so he sends his minions to bust up the joint on a regular basis until Swayze (Dalton) is hired as the chief bouncer. And this is a different kind of bar bouncer…. he’s got a PhD from NYU in philosophy, which means he gets to offer profound thoughts like “Pain don’t hurt” while sewing up his own knife wounds, something that certainly impresses Doc (Kelly Lynch) enough that she takes off her “these glasses are to let you know I’m smart” and eventually boffs him, driving Wesley even more insane with jealousy. Another bonus is that everyone has sex standing up in this movie. Furniture is only to be used as weaponry. We get the requisite “come to the dark side!” scene when Wesley invites Dalton over and asks him to work for him instead, which of course our hero refuses. For some reason, this is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, maybe because of the way Gazzara has clearly been directed to cut into his steak and eggs breakfast with such deliberate precision as if he’s cutting up the town itself. Or maybe it’s because it’s the way he gets to growl at Dalton: “Of COURSE you love to beat people up! You wouldn’t be HU-MAN if you didn’t!”

This movie has a higher lame-dialogue-per-minute ratio than any Ed Wood film. Right off the bat, when some drunken shitkicker tries to pick up a bar bim with “Let’s you and I rub nipples together” and she blows him off with “I can do that all by myself,” we know we’re in for some good times. After all, someone describes the bar as “This place has a big sign over the urinal sayin’ don’t eat the big white mint.” Despite spending the entire film beating the shit out of bad guys, Swayze tells us “No one ever wins in a fight.” The dialogue reaches the summit of Everest when Wesley’s chief karate-kickin’ mullet head growls at Swayze “I used to fuck guys like you in prison” before getting his throat ripped out.

You see, ripping people’s throats out is Dalton’s secret-yet-forbidden-in-the-bouncer-lore specialty move. The man he killed with it back in Memphis haunts him to this day. All that’s missing is a flashback sequence to the Shaolin bar bouncer academy where Philip Ahn & Keye Luke train a young Swayze never,ever to use the throat-ripping move unless we’re past the second act pinch that propels us to the ticking-clock scenario.

Actually, the guy who DID mentor Dalton, Wade Garrett, turns up in the persona of Sam Elliot, looking (as one reviewer I remember putting it) “like a Chuck Jones weasel with a velcro beard.” He might look like Wirey McScraggly, but he knows all sorts of ways to fist-beat someone FRONTIER STYLE! We are treated to this talent accordingly. And the Lord God said “It is good.”

A tragically uncredited co-star of this opus would have to be Patrick Swayze’s ass. The serendipitously named Rowdy Herrington’s directorial approach is to fixate the camera on Swayze’s ass – sometimes during fight scenes where the often shirtless Swayze will be oiled up for good measure, but most of all during his sunrise tai-chi workouts (where we can imagine his deep meditations on beating people up) or whenever there’s a chance to cutaway to a reaction shot of an awed female all a-ga-ga over the gluteus glories beheld. They probably figured they’d get the guys in the audience with the nudity, drinking and violence, so why not use the electromagnetic power of Swayze’s ass to attract the ladies? It takes up so many shots that it begins to take on the role of a Zen Mass in terms of what it means to the story – we can project anything we want onto it, except for this movie since it’s in widescreen. For that, we’d probably need Dan Aykroyd’s ass.

I’m guessing that all the beefcake was in Swayze’s contract – after all, he was just coming off his star-making role in 1987’s Dirty Dancing where he played hunka-hunka burnin’ shegitz to Jennifer Grey’s “daddy’s little Jewess is growin’ up!” Jennifer went on to get a shiksifying nose job that ruined her particular brand of cuteness, and Patrick wound up ripping the throats out of trailer trash as a violent symbolic semiotic substitute for the consummation of the extra-diogetical homoerotic subtext between the characters, symbolized by the high flames of the burning ranch behind them.

Or not.

Instead, Roadhouse may just be a ridiculous cartoon of a B-movie about people beating the shit out of each other that’s amazingly entertaining despite it’s depths of awfulness.

Will you enjoy it? “Of course you will! You wouldn’t be HU-MAN if you didn’t!”

2 thoughts on “Bad Movies To Love II: Roadhouse (1989)

Add yours

  1. I have to admit…Patrick Swayze’s nekkid butt was beautiful.

    Sam Elliot-hot hot hot.

    And the music…

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