Road House (1989)

Road House is a 1989 American action film directed by Rowdy Herrington and starring Patrick Swayze as a bouncer at a newly refurbished roadside bar who protects a small town in Missouri from a corrupt businessman. Sam Elliott co-stars as a bouncer, the mentor, friend, and foil of Swayze’s character. The cast also includes Kelly Lynch as Swayze’s love interest and Ben Gazzara as the main antagonist.

Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is a professional “cooler” (i.e., specialized doorman or bouncer) with a mysterious past who is enticed from his current job at a club in New York City by Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to take over security at his club/bar, the Double Deuce, in Jasper, Missouri. Tilghman plans to invest substantial money into the club to enhance its image and needs a first-rate cooler to maintain stability.

Arriving in Jasper, Dalton eventually takes lodging at a local farm owned by Emmett (“Sunshine” Parker). He attracts attention driving his 1965 Buick Riviera and having a quiet demeanor—contrasting with the tough locals. Dalton’s “real” car is a 1986 Mercedes 560SEC with New York license plates, which he keeps hidden (at a private garage and later under a car cover in his landlord’s barn in Jasper) because it becomes a target for disgruntled bar patrons. Dalton is soon introduced to local business magnate (and next door neighbor) Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who appears to have a stranglehold on the town; little happens without his knowledge and approval. In the course of cleaning up the violent nightclub, Dalton dismisses several unruly and corrupt employees, some of whom are connected with Wesley. After one particularly violent night where Dalton is forced to physically remove Wesley’s henchmen, he suffers a knife wound. Going to the hospital for stitches, he strikes up a friendship with Dr. Elizabeth “Doc” Clay (Kelly Lynch), which develops into a romantic relationship.

Wesley summons Dalton to his home in a seemingly innocent attempt to make peace, but has an ulterior motive: Wesley would like Dalton to work for him once he extorts Tilghman’s club. He reveals knowledge of Dalton’s past by mentioning an incident where Dalton killed a man in Memphis, Tennessee, then claimed self-defense at the trial. When Dalton declines, Wesley begins an assault on Dalton’s friends, including interfering with liquor deliveries to the Double Deuce. Dalton’s mentor, legendary but aging cooler Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott), arrives in town after a disconcerting phone call from Dalton and helps him defend a liquor shipment from Wesley’s thugs.

That evening, the auto parts store of local business owner Red Webster (Red West) is destroyed by a fire after he refuses to give ground to Wesley’s persistent extortion demands. Dalton, not wanting to exacerbate matters, allows Wesley and his men entrance to the club that night. However, Wesley deploys Jimmy (Marshall Teague), a violent ex-con and accomplished martial artist, to start a brawl with the Double Deuce bouncers. After a brief skirmish with Dalton, Wesley calls an end to the fight and leaves the club.

The next day, car dealership owner Pete Stroudenmire becomes Wesley’s next victim when he also refuses to pay. As a result, Wesley has one of his goons, Gary Ketchum (Anthony De Longis), demolish the dealership and crush four station wagons in the showroom with his monster truck (BIGFOOT #7), making some of the people cheer as Dalton and his friends look on with contempt.

That night, Doc visits Dalton and attempts to persuade him to leave. However, their conversation is interrupted by a powerful explosion at Emmett’s house next door. Dalton rescues Emmett from the blaze before his house is destroyed. He then witnesses Jimmy fleeing the scene and manages to intercept him. After a vicious fight, Jimmy points a pistol and Dalton, and Dalton kills him by ripping out his throat with his bare hand. The next morning, Dalton receives an ominous phone call from Wesley, who vows to have either Wade or Doc killed by the flip of a coin. After Wesley hangs up leaving the outcome unknown, a badly beaten Wade staggers into the Double Deuce. Believing Doc to be in danger, Dalton races to the hospital alone, but she refuses to leave with him, repulsed by his increasingly violent nature. Upon returning to the Double Deuce, Dalton finds Wade sprawled out on the bar with a knife lodged in his chest and a note reading: ‘It was tails.’ In tears of rage, Dalton pulls the knife free and jumps into his car, determined to settle the score with Wesley.

Driving his Mercedes, Dalton speeds recklessly toward Wesley’s estate. The car draws gunfire from Wesley’s henchmen, but when it crashes, they discover the car empty, and the knife that was used to kill Wade stuck in the accelerator. Using the distraction, Dalton sneaks onto the estate and dispatches each of Wesley’s henchmen, eventually coming face-to-face with Wesley himself. Dalton gains the upper hand in their fight and prepares to finish Wesley in the same brutal manner as Jimmy, but decides against it. As Dalton releases him and walks away, Wesley seizes the opportunity to reach for a gun, but is promptly shot to death by Red, Emmett, Stroudenmire, and Tilghman. They stash the weapons away prior to the arrival of law enforcement and proceed, along with a surviving henchman, to corroborate each other’s innocence, with the implication that what happened in Wesley’s house will remain a secret.

The final scene shows Cody (Jeff Healey) and his band at the bar performing “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky”, while cutting to Dalton and Doc enjoying each other’s company in a swimming hole, suggesting that they do get together and Dalton remains in town for good.

Cast

Filming started in April 1988 and took place in locations throughout California, primarily NewhallValencia, and Canyon Country. The filming of much of the “New Double Deuce” was done at the Cowboy/The Bandstand (which went by other names as well until it closed) located in Anaheim. The opening and monster truck scenes were filmed in Reedley. The Kings River runs between the two residences.

Road House received negative reviews upon release. Variety was critical of “a flat romantic attachment” between Dalton and Clay and wrote that its “vigilante justice, lawlessness and wanton violence feel ludicrous in a modern setting.” Other reviews are critical of Swayze’s role as Dalton.

Although the film was not a major box office success, it did quite well on home video. The film also found life on cable television.

Road House was nominated for (but did not win) five Golden Raspberry AwardsWorst PictureWorst Actor (Patrick Swayze), Worst Supporting Actor (Ben Gazzara), Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson‘s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.

 Over time, the movie has garnered a significant cult following.

The soundtrack for Road House featured Canadian guitarist Jeff Healey, whose band was featured in the film as the house band for the Double Deuce. Cruzados were the band in the opening credits, contributing three songs to the film that never made the soundtrack. Patrick Swayze also wrote one song and sang two for the soundtrack. The film’s score was composed by Michael Kamen.

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