Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Road House.”
The Movie: “Road House”
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A tough bouncer is hired to tame a dirty bar.Jacob Black.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38 percent
Froemming: Last week, we hit the mean streets of modern noir with “L.A. Confidential,” one of the few high-brow flicks we have visited here at the JOE-DOWN. But after weeks of that, glittery vampires and mutant frogs, I decided to dust off the old Patrick Swayze boxset Brown had bought us and visit a film that checks many items off what makes a great JOE-DOWN movie:
- Seedy characters.
- Panama hats.
- Roundhouse kicks.
- Misplaced and awkward blues music.
You know what that means? That means we watched “Road House” for this week’s installment, a movie that tries very hard for me to take Ben Gazzara seriously as a small-town crime boss and fails in epic proportions.
As I ponder the line “I (REDACTED) guys like you in prison” that is actually said in this movie, why don’t you give us your first thoughts.
Brown: Somehow that line isn’t even close to the most insane part of this movie. You actually see a man get his throat ripped out like a mulleted “Mortal Kombat!”
This is one of those movies where I think everyone who has seen it has something to love about it. Whether it’s Swayze’s… Swayze-ness, Sam Elliott, pro wrestling legend Terry Funk, some decent bar bands playing good tunes or the plot… Well, not the plot. That’s sort of dumb.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but I figured it was a good time to close out our Swayze three-pack of movies we bought last year to review “Youngblood” and “Red Dawn.” I’ll be on the lookout for a Steven Seagal three-pack in the future.
While I pack up my beater to go to the Double Deuce, run us through the start.
Froemming: We kick this off in New York City, where we meet our hero James Dalton (Wikipedia tells me he has a first name, I have no recollection of him being called “James” at all in this movie), a professional cooler who keeps bar patrons in line. Basically, he is paid to beat up drunk people. And he is legendary at his job, because whenever he says his name, everyone goes into hushed tones and awe like he is a modern day Paul Bunyan.
If Paul Bunyan beat up drunks instead of creating the Grand Canyon or whatever it is he did. I know, I live in Bemidji and have zero idea why Paul is famous.
Dalton is approached by a guy named Frank Tilghman, who owns a bar is Jasper, Mo. that he wants to clean up so he can probably not have insurance that breaks the bank due to all the fights going on.
Look, you hire Terry Funk as a bouncer, people are gonna get beat up, man.
Brown: If there is one consistent theme in my notes, it was this: How the (REDACTED) were there world-renowned bouncers? I have never learned a single bouncer’s name in my life. To be fair, that’s due to my own social shortcomings. Same with bartenders. Like, I know Coyote Ugly is famous for their bartenders’ flair but I most certainly don’t know any names.
Tilghman recruits Dalton, which made me curious about the amount of bouncers there are on LinkedIn. But, if you want to change your bar from a blood-soaked dive into a place where ‘80s yuppies will happily snort cocaine in your bathroom, you get the best bouncer you can!
One more nitpick: Tilghman says that Jasper is right outside of Kansas City. Sir, two hours is not “right outside” of something. I live in Willmar, two hours from the Twin Cities. I don’t tell everyone I live right outside the Cities.
Froemming: Hey, you live right outside of Bemidji (three and-a-half-hours)!
So Dalton names his price: Five grand up front, $500 a night and all his medical expenses paid. Looks like Dalton is one of those #snowflakes who doesn’t like paying thousands in medical costs.
So he heads to Jasper, and visits the Double Deuce, which to me sounds like an epic BM.
Froemming: I deserve that.
Dalton scopes out the place and sees that while the customers are pretty rowdy, the staff is all sorts of messed up. Bouncers letting in minors, bartenders skimming from the till, waitresses selling drugs, this is more of an off-campus college house than a place of business. No wonder the yuppies are not snorting blow while stomping their feet to the Bee Gees here: This place sucks.
Though I am a fan of dive bars, so this would be amazing to me.
Brown: And, I think there is something in the water in Jasper because EVERYONE at this bar pulls out a knife as naturally as they blink. Rub shoulders with another patron? KNIFE. Waitress spills a splash on the table? KNIFE. Kitchen brings out your food without a proper knife? KNIFE. The Double Deuce patrons enjoy stabbin’ more than Roberto from “Futurama.”
And on this first night, Dalton is just observing what’s happening so he can understand what he’s dealing with. It’s like watching Jon Taffer on “Bar Rescue” (a Froemming favorite). I was waiting for the moment when Dalton had seen enough of Terry Funk assaulting bar patrons to start screaming “SHUT IT DOWN!”
Also, hey Terry, how long will all the violence last?
Froemming: Dalton lets everyone get their violence out of their system, and at the end of the night, promptly fires a bunch of troublesome employees, including Funk. Which was a damn shame, but I get it.
Brown: Quick question: During the bar fight, was that Randy Quaid sitting at the bar laughing before he had a bottle thrown at his head? I swear that was the American hero from “Independence Day.”
Froemming: Maybe he was laying low from the Star Whackers that are after him? Also, why did every man in the 1980s have either a perm or a mullet or both?
After cleaning house, we see Dalton in town buying a junker car, which we see why he does instead of driving his normal sweet, sweet ride all over: As a bouncer, people tend to get mad that you are tossing them out of a bar, and they tend to get destructive. So, they beat the (REDACTED) out of this car rather than his fancy one.
Dalton has thought of everything!
Brown: And, he also gets himself a room above a barn in the country, which happens to be across the lake (Pond? River) from a wealthy man named Brad Wesley, who is a business tycoon in the area because I guess he built a mall in Jasper. Because what is more ‘80s than a town of, what, 200 people, getting a luxury shopping center?
Froemming: There is one thing more 80s than that: Wesley sporting a Panama hat and a white/tannish jacket.
Brown: Yeah, he looks like a low-rent “Scarface” baddie.
Speaking of “Scarface,” it turns out Wesley is an amateur mafioso, but we’ll get to that soon.
While he’s busy trying to fix the Double Deuce, we see that Dalton is a different sort of badass. He does Tai Chi in front of the barn like a weirdo in a park. He has no television or A/C and lives with the literal smell of horse poop surrounding him. He watches as people at Wesley’s house enjoy a Stewie Griffin-style sexy party.
And, after a rough night at the Double Deuce where he gets a knife wound (of course) to the side, he talks to a young doctor named Elizabeth about how he was a philosophy major at NYU.
Good to know he has a degree as worthless as mine.
Froemming: Wouldn’t be the first philosophy major I have come across working doors at bars and museums.
Look, we learn during this knife fight and roundhouse kick marathon that the former bartender that Dalton fired is the nephew of Wesley, and that Wesley makes sure everyone gets their booze deliveries.
The nephew is a little touched, and these goons, we learn quickly, must be masochists because they keep coming back for Dalton to roundhouse kick them in the face. They never learn. I hope Wesley is paying their medical bills, because after all the blows they receive, they should be eating through a straw.
Brown: I think the nephew has gotten his ass kicked so many times, his body anticipates it. It would explain why he’s already bleeding when the camera cuts as Dalton punches him.
Because it’s Patrick Swayze, Elizabeth goes on a date with our bouncer hero after he, you know, beats the (REDACTED) out of a couple ruffians.
I will say this: Dalton knows danger. He sees one of the bad guys has a blade in his boot because OF COURSE he has a hidden blade. He has the ocular patdown perfected.
They go to a diner where I would expect a doctor to scold someone for smoking as much as Dalton does. Alas, that’s not the case.
Froemming: It was the 80s, it was almost the law that everyone smoked. Also, how could she resist that magnificent mullet atop of Dalton’s head?
Now, I want to mention one thing I found humorous in this movie: The wild blues riffs when a scene is about to end or when someone stops talking. I swear this movie started this and TV shows like “Highlander” perfected it.
Brown: I’d like to also think that Dalton was the man who popularized the T-shirt/sport coat combination because two-thirds of the time that is Dalton’s formal wear.
Not only is Dalton in charge of the bar security, but he’s also dealing with staff and getting liquor into the bar that isn’t from Wesley, who wants a cut of everything.
Wesley…he’s not into that. Turns out, the dude has a short temper, seeing that his girlfriend got beat and the friendly automotive shop run by Red is vandalized because he’s not paying his protection/”community improvement fund.”
I remind you, again, this is a mafia-like boss that earned his power by giving teenagers a place to get away from their parents.
Froemming: He is the Don of the Food Court my friend. He offers deals you can’t refuse!
Again, no way in hell am I to believe that Ben Gazzara is intimidating in any fashion. He is a Members Only jacket away from being a total 1980s fashion cliche in this.
Dalton has a way to get booze (he is very good at his job) and once it shows up, here comes Wesley’s goons to try and intimidate/beat up a guy who has thus far knocked the living snot out of each and everyone of them, minus some ex-con named Jimmy, who seems to have had an amazing sex life in prison.
Enter Sam (REDACTED) Elliott, the man, the myth, the NOT HAVING HIS MUSTACHE IN THIS??!!!
It’s OK, he still gives a great performance. He enters the bar, where the staff now dress like they work at a Circuit City, and wants to know where Dalton is. I really wanted him to order a Sioux City Sarsaparilla here too, but alas, he just grabs a beer.
Brown: He also kicks Terry Funk and company’s ass. Terry Funk hasn’t taken a beating like that since he wrestled a barbed wire match with Sabu in ECW.
And I dunno, as much as Swayze and Elliott have a fun chemistry (and as much as it makes me feel guilty about picking Swayze in our college deadpool), the idea of a father/son-type bouncer relationship is… well, it’s stupid. And again, how are these bouncers revered country wide? The only way I’ll buy it is if they bounced Studio 54. But no, they’re essentially a pair of Jon Taffers.
Froemming: They do more roundhouse kicks and less yelling than Taffer, but I get where you are coming from.
These two beat up Wesley’s crew and then hang out all night with Dalton’s girlfriend, who is a doctor who needs rest because she is there to help sick people. But alas, they hang out drinking and get breakfast at some hole-in-the-wall. She she has been up all hours of the night.
Now there were hints before, but it is brought up here about Dalton’s past. He killed a guy in Memphis, just to watch him die…
Wait, no, he was sleeping with a married woman, the husband pulled a gun and he pulled the guy’s throat out like he was Sub-Zero.
Brown: Did you want to see a “Roadhouse” prequel that took place in Memphis? I sure did.
Froemming: Nope. I got enough of that story here. The prequel would probably have been a CGI nightmare like “Phantom Menace.”
Brown: While at the bar one night, the entire place is in shock as Red’s shop goes up in massive flames. Can’t help having a bunch of oil and what-not in there, but clearly it was a dirty deed conducted by Wesley’s gang.
Trying to show that it’s still his town, Wesley and his hired goons show up to the Double Deuce and make a scene. First, Wesley’s squeeze does a striptease on stage, then Jimmy shows his sweet (??) moves involving a pool stick.
Froemming: His moves were almost on-par as Mac from “It’s Always Sunny.”
Brown: You’re not wrong.
That sets off a battle royale more akin to the old Double Deuce. Just as we’re about to see a Dalton/Jimmy showdown, Wesley has his men retreat. Their point has been made. This was Wesley’s “King Kong ain’t got (REDACTED) on me” moment.
Froemming: Yeah, a very wimpy, suburban dad living a midlife crisis version of that.
The next day, to prove he is still a big bad guy (imagine Kirk Van Houten from “The Simpsons” acting like Tony Soprano), he has his goons drive a monster truck through the local car dealership.
For a guy who built this town, he sure does destroy it a lot. Also, he is very good at getting the town to hate him. If he survived the end of this movie, his life would have ended sadly as the internet destroyed malls and box stores with the luxury of not going outside to shop.
Brown: And, how does one bouncer at a bar suddenly throw your criminal empire into disarray? You can’t go drink at another bar? You’re in Missouri. You cannot be that far from another establishment.
Brown: Wesley goes so far as to bomb the house of Emmett, the guy Dalton rented the room from. Seriously, spend your time on other things, Wesley. Yes, they say in the movie that he was in love with Elizabeth and that’s what sparks a lot of this. But move on, man. I know heartbreak sucks. But move on.
After said house bombing, Dalton sees Jimmy speeding off on a dirt bike. Only, he’s not really going fast and Dalton catches up to him on foot, tackles him off the bike and the two engage in MORTAL KOMBAT.
Froemming: Oh yeah, there is a ton of action here. Roundhouse kicks, punches thrown, bones cracking, blood flying, Jimmy talking about how he used to bang guys like Dalton in prison….Wait, what? Who says that in the middle of a fight? I mean, it is a good way to confuse your opponent, but it is something one does not normally say in hand-to-hand combat.
So how does Dalton respond? Well, Jimmy pulls a gun and Dalton rips his throat out.
Dalton better hope Missouri has a fantastic Stand Your Ground Law to get away with cold-blooded murder like this.
He even screams Wesley’s name as he drags the lifeless body of Jimmy into the pond with him. Dalton…you might need some therapy pal.
Brown: I can’t remember if “Mythbusters” did an episode where they talked about if it’s possible to rip someone’s throat out. I hope they did or else this mystery will die in darkness.
Again, all this murder and mayhem over a (REDACTED) bouncer. Go to a liquor store and buy beer and party at your mansion, guys. This movie is so awesome and so (REDACTED) stupid.
After committing murder, Dalton just waltzes into the Double Deuce to a ringing phone. It’s Wesley and he tells Dalton that either Wade or Elizabeth are dying today and he decides it on a coin flip like the lamest Harvey Dent in history.
You’re worried it’s Elizabeth because Wade comes into the bar after an ass kicking, so Dalton races to the hospital to tell his bae that it’s time to skip town. Only she doesn’t want to leave with a guy THAT SHE SAW RIP OUT ANOTHER MAN’S THROAT!
By the time comes back, Wade has been stabbed to death with a note saying “It was tails.”
OK, that was a badass moment.
Froemming: I have no idea why Wesley keeps poking this homicidal bear. He ripped the throat out of his best goon, put his others in the hospital and is literally not afraid of anyone.
And yet, he does.
Dalton goes into a rage, and decides to go all “Die Hard” on a hillbilly compound in the middle of nowhere.
And it is awesome. First he crashes his nice car right into the property, using a knife to keep the gas pedal down to sneak in from behind. Then he slowly picks these goons off one-by-one.
For a man who practises Tai Chi, he sure has a violent temper.
And Wesley walks through his house, giving that disappointed dad nod at the lifeless corpses lying in his living room like “awe shucks Dalton. I’m not mad, but I sure am disappointed.”
Brown: I’m disappointed that we didn’t see Terry Funk and Dalton duke it out one more time. Just turn a corner and there’s Terry (dunno if he’s dead or knocked out). I assume the fight ended like this.
And in all this stalking, the fat, dumb henchman gets KO’d by a stuffed bear. It looked something like this.
So now, it’s Dalton vs. Wesley. One-on-one.
Froemming: The Man with the Mullet vs the Guy with Prescription Socks!
Brown: There’s some spears thrown around but Dalton is able to get the upper hand and prepares to rip out Wesley’s throat. I mean, you crossed the murder threshold already, so why are you holding back?
Alas, Dalton won’t take his life, and Elizabeth walks in just in time. But Wesley won’t lose gracefully and he pulls a gun. But that threat is neutralized by Red, who SHOOTS WESLEY WITH A SHOTGUN. Next, Emmett shoots Wesley with a shotgun. Then another businessman in town shoots Wesley with a shotgun. THEN Tilghman shoots Wesley with a shotgun.
Seriously, it’s like Jasper’s Chamber of Commerce committed a gangland assassination on this guy. That’s small-town government at work, people.
Froemming: And the police show up, see a man brutally gunned down in his own home, asks what happened and we get a retirement-community-Mafia response of “I didn’t see nuthin’!”
Brown: It’s the Homer Simpson idea of the law: If you don’t see it, it’s not illegal!
Froemming: Well, the Double Deuce is still in business and Dalton has James Bond-style loud sex with Doc in a lake and the and the movie just ends.
WHAT? So many crimes, so many bodies and nothing happens?
Brown: It was so jarring to see the movie go from brutal assassination to Jeff Healey noodling on a guitar and Patrick Swayze skinny dipping with his main squeeze doctor friend.
Froemming: I do not understand this profession. Let’s beat up some drunks down in recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah, this movie is stupid entertaining. Swayze is great, Elliott is great, it is so cheesy but so good. Check it out.
Brown: Sure would. It’s not a good movie, but it’s a very enjoyable movie. Definitely a product of its time but its charm still carries over.