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Friday, 24 February 2017

Retro Review: Roadhouse (1989)

Cast: Patrick Swayze, Ben Gazzara, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott
Genre: Action 
U.S Box Office Gross: over $30 million

Plot: A tough bouncer is hired to tame a dirty bar

'Swayze Ain't Lazy As He Kicks Ass' 

Roadhouse is a quintessential B-movie and it arrived at the end of the 1980s and right before we had entered the next decade, the 1990s that after a sleuth of musclebound Arnie and Sly Stallone efforts, films such as Roadhouse and Best of the Best ushered in a new phase for the action movie genre towards the 1990s. Both were spearheaded by non-action movie star actors in Patrick Swayze for Roadhouse and Eric Roberts for Best of the Best. Chuck Norris did carve a following and he, in many respects, opened the doors for American martial arts films to flourish on the market. With these movies, less emphasis was placed on the spiritual and cultural origins of Kung Fu and more attention was placed on action, hand-to-hand combat and added guns and explosions. This was then superseded by the likes of Steven Segal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, their egos and less than satisfactory antics off-screen meant that the vast majority of their films would end up going straight to home video. 

Roadhouse is a type of action movie where one has to suspend all disbelief; the police rarely show up at all, oh and Dalton smokes, AND practices Tai-Chi! You have a scene with Sam Elliott stopping one of Patrick's punches, reminiscent to that between Mr Miyagi and Daniel-san in The Karate Kid. Yes, it's not an outright masterpiece, it's not award-winning material, well okay, it won a couple of Razzies - which are awards celebrating 'bad' films', but it is thoroughly watchable, entertaining with some interesting action set-pieces. It appears as though everyone who worked on the film knew this was going to be a serious action, mixed martial arts-based flick, without intentionally being like one. 

Roadhouse succeeds as an action film, without taking it too seriously. 

Swayze is Dalton: a bouncer for a bar who is hired at a particular and violent Missouri bar named the 'Double Deuces', to clean up the mess and dross which leads to his run-in with a mob boss, going by the name of Brad Westley. Dalton, later on, falls for the doc, Clay and runs into his old friend, as the pair discuss how to tame Westley. 

I wasn't too fond of this movie when I first saw this a year ago; the cheesiness of it was a turn-off for me; however, over time, I've come to appreciate it and get used to its cheese or corniness. Roadhouse is an action flick with extended fight sequences. If you're expecting a high brow film, then this isn't exactly it. Choc- full of male testosterone, blood, sweat, booze and nudity, it sees Patrick Swayze trade in his dancing shoes for fighting ones, as he plays a bouncer trying to keep things in order. 

Produced by Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard), this film shares similarities with another cult martial arts based classic in Best of the Best, which came out in the same year. Each film contains one bar brawl fight scene. In a way also, Roadhouse is sort of a modern-day Western with the giant haystacks, bars and country music. One reviewer labelled this film 'a tolerable Patrick Swayze gutter trash' and whilst Swayze has been greatly missed since his passing in 2009, despite that his career- besides riding on a crest of a wave with Dirty Dancing and Ghost - has been less than successful, his strength was his ability and knack to showcase his range of talents in a range of genres. 

The female characters just exist to look pretty, attractive and to gain Dalton's attention and affection. They are also dancing on tables, showing off with their bodies. Though I'd rather have seen Julie Michaels, who is in this film as Dalton's female love interest and who sports a black eye and a few stitches after being abused by some guys, of whom he falls for, instead of Kelly Lynch. She looked far more appealing than Lynch, who didn't really convince me as her character, who was bland and whose performance felt wooden. But then the audience doesn't seem to care - because the vast majority of them tune in to see Patrick, than for her. Out of the main cast, her performance was the least effective. The love story involving Lynch and Patrick's characters is amusingly unconvincing. After his stint on Blue Jean Cop, Sam Elliott throws in a couple of punches and he was not bad, as Dalton's best bud.

Final Verdict

Between this film and Best of the Best, I'd take the latter over Roadhouse out of the two and whilst the dialogue is at times silly, alternating between macho lingo to general banter, and doesn't have a lot to say on anything else, besides kicking people's ass, the fact that it is not taking itself seriously and tries to be fun at the same time, makes Roadhouse worthwhile. But for the cheesiness, and droning melodrama that I can easily let it go over my head, this is still entertaining fluff and one that has aged quite well to this day. 

For all of the fights and unintentional laughs, Patrick Swayze's charisma is Roadhouse's ultimate strength and is what really enhances and sells this film. The supporting cast are effective, but for Kelly Lynch - without Swayze's presence, Roadhouse would be more like the dog house. He even did his own stunts, which is just as impressive.

It may lack the competitive edge of Best of the Best, but like that movie, this is such an unashamedly guilty pleasure and one I will rewatch from time to time. 


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