Road House (1989)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Road House</strong> (1989)

(On TV, November 2018) Peak Patrick Swayze cannot be explained—it has to be seen to be understood. And while Dirty Dancing usually imposes itself as the obligatory film in considering his Swayzeeness, I’d argue that Road House is a better place to start, or maybe to end. Swayze here plays a bar bouncer with a particular genius in making sure the place is well organized—keeping the riff-raff away, ensuring that employees are honest and taking care of any customers making trouble. As the story begins, he’s somehow convinced to leave a prestige assignment in New York City to help turn around a bar set deep in rural Missouri. As he rolls into the small community, we’re left to grin at this elaborate set-up for a classic “stranger comes into town” plot: The question isn’t whether he’s going to attract the attention of the corrupt local authorities and clean up the place, but in what style he’s going to do so. As such, it’s a near-perfect Swayze vehicle, allowing the actor to flex his skills as a credible action hero. Only a fairly lacklustre romance prevents Road House from truly making him shine. The rest of the film is familiar business, with the local mafia intimidating the honest men out there, and the protagonist going on an over-the-top rampage of violence to right the wrongs of the place. It gets surprisingly violent at times. Road House is not what we’d call a good movie: it’s clearly aimed both at female Swayze fans and at their boyfriends looking for a few action thrills. But its unsubtle, almost-earnest approach to a classical story means that it can be appreciated either straight or ironically, depending on your chosen viewing level. Many movies of the time have aged far less gracefully.

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