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Let’s Analyze Patrick Swayze’s ‘Road House’ Like It’s a Perfectly Normal Movie

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A shirtless white man practices tai chi outdoors.
Patrick Swayze in ‘Road House’ being shirtless and moist, as he is for most of the movie. (United Artists)

There’s a new version of Road House on the horizon, starring Taylor Swift’s Meanest Ex-Boyfriend (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the Most Irritating Man Alive (Conor McGregor).

I know.

Are there any good reasons to remake this 1989 Patrick Swayze classic? Absolutely not. Will it be as preposterous as the original? Based on the trailer, in which someone can be seen getting attacked by an alligator, it might actually be as off-the-charts unhinged as the first one was. At the very least, the new one promises to be a bit more diverse (not a massive challenge, admittedly) with Jessica Williams as a bar owner and Arturo Castro (Jaimé from Broad City!) as a brawler.

The new version drops on Prime Video on March 21, so now seems like a good time to talk about the original Road House in (a possibly unnecessary amount of) detail. You know — for people too young to have heard of this movie. And people who saw it a long time ago but are unwilling to sit inside that much testosterone ever again. And people who want to hear about the highlights without having to watch Patrick Swayze silently observing bar patrons for several minutes at a time.

What is the 1989 ‘Road House’ about?

Road House is about Dalton (played wirily by P. Swizzle), a nightclub security expert who has a degree in philosophy and also enjoys stitching up his own knife wounds without pain medication. Like a Real Man.

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One night, Dalton is approached by a dude in a turquoise bolo tie named Frank Tilghman. Tilghman owns a rural Missouri bar named the Double Deuce that he describes as “the kind of place where they sweep up the eyeballs after closing.” Dalton agrees to help clean up the joint for $5,000 up front, $500 a night and medical expenses. (I feel like that’s maybe all of the money this bar would even have on hand, but cool, sure, whatever.)

A white man standing in front of chicken wire laughs while talking to another man. They are indoors and it is smokey.
‘Wanna hear about the time I killed a guy?’ (United Artists)

Once in town, Dalton moves into a barn (naturally) where he can do oily tai chi down by the river and sex to ladies on his flat roof. Across the river lives Evil Rich Stereotype Guy Brad Wesley who startles horses with his helicopter and extorts money out of every business in town. Soon, Dalton and Wesley are in an escalating war in which multiple buildings get inexplicably blown up and many, many faces get punched.

At the bar, Dalton does a bunch of reorganizing and says things like, “I’m telling you straight. It’s my way or the highway.” At one point he announces: “We’ve got entirely too many troublemakers here. Too many 40-year-old adolescents, felons, power drinkers, and trustees of modern chemistry.” (Don’t threaten me with a good time, Dalton!) Dalton is an excellent security guy but is absolutely abysmal at trash talk. “You’re too stupid to have a good time!” he yells before promptly breaking one guy’s ankle. (Is this really the best you can do with a philosophy degree, sir?)

Halfway through the movie, Dalton’s best friend Wade Garrett shows up. Wade is played by Sam Elliott looking like a sexy, white, salt-and-pepper Jesus. Soon, he too is embroiled in the feud.

A man with shaggy salt and pepper hair and stubble rests one arm on his head and looks forward.
Multiple people refer to Sam Elliott as ‘old man’ throughout ‘Road House’ and I’m sorry, what now? (United Artists)

How silly is it?

Here are some things that happen in Road House:

  • A monster truck drives over (and destroys) an entire showroom’s worth of cars
  • A man’s throat is ripped out, by hand
  • A man gets knocked out by a taxidermied polar bear (you heard me)
  • A Mercedes bursts into flames in midair for absolutely no reason
  • Everyone at the Double Deuce has heard of Dalton and Garrett before they get to town and are awed by their arrival even though they’re literally just out-of-state bouncers
  • Despite being haunted for many years about killing a man in self defense, Dalton, towards the end of this movie, goes on what basically amounts to a gleeful killing spree
  • A doctor willingly staples up a wound on Dalton’s side without anesthesia, like litigation doesn’t exist
  • A series of violent deaths are never investigated by anyone because four townspeople, all visibly holding guns, say they “didn’t see nothin’.” Cool

Has it stood the test of time?

Oh, dear sweet Christ, no. Road House is a blaring, albeit hilarious, time capsule of ’80s braggadocio in which everyone has way too much hairspray in their bangs, way too much arm-waving in their dance moves and way too many cigarettes in their mouths.

This is a movie in which the villain of the thing, even though he’s trying to kill people left and right, is about as convincingly threatening as Judge Smails in Caddyshack or Mr. Vernon in The Breakfast Club.

This is a movie in which 99% of women look like they just wandered in from a Whitesnake video shoot. Naturally, most of their personalities don’t extend beyond wanting to be topless in the bar. And who can blame them? The number of breast implants present in this small, blue collar Missouri town is truly astounding. (The phrase “male gaze” does not sufficiently describe how many lingering cropped shots of cleavage and butts there are in this thing. But the man who directed this movie is named Rowdy Herrington, so okay then.)

A tan blonde woman looks upwards.
‘Road House’: Awash with crunchy hair outcrops like these, worn by Kelly Lynch as Doc. (United Artists)

As for the other ’80s aesthetics, Dalton’s pants are often insanely high (like, 1940s-high), rough customers are frequently dressed exactly like Born in the USA-era Bruce Springsteen, and the mark of success in the bar is measured by how much jaunty neon signage pops up and how much beige Dalton is willing to wear to work.

Should I watch this nonsense?

If you want to see a half-naked Patrick Swayze flinging his slippery body at moving motorcycles, off the top of buildings and onto other humans with wild abandon, you should watch Road House.

If you want to see Sam Elliott wearing his hair in the only successfully sultry man bun in history, you should watch Road House.

If you enjoy scissor-kicking and wanton violence, you should watch Road House.

If you want to revel in how far we’ve come as a culture in terms of flagrant on-screen sexism, you should watch Road House.

Finally, if you’re planning on seeing the new Road House, you really owe it to the original to start there. Especially since some of the first script is getting recycled — “Nobody ever wins a fight” has definitely carried over. If the most famous line in the original movie — concerning nonconsensual physical acts between incarcerated people — makes it into the new one, it will be a miracle.

Stay safe out there, friends — and do like Dalton and be nice.

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The original ‘Road House’ is currently streaming on Max. The new version will hit Prime Video on March 21, 2024.

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