Cult Crap: Road House (1989)

Underlying Buddhism themes! 80s Action Movie! Patrick Swayze! These are the three pillars of Road House (1989, Dir. Rowdy Herrington).

I was fortunate enough to see this film on a virgin (brand new) 35mm print just before Christmas at a cult-film night organised by Film Unit Cinema and The Five and Dime Picture Show in Sheffield.

I didn’t quite know where to start really, so I looked up some other reviews of favourite critics of mine to see what they had to say. Most either panned it or trundled along the lines of “it’s so bad it’s good” – which on the whole I would agree with. But there’s something I found genuinely admirable with Road House by the end. And just saying that it’s a good-bad movie doesn’t quite explain it.

To begin with, it is a strange, strange mash up of concepts:

Firstly, there’s this successful bar owner/who has bought a shitty, shitty joint in the middle of small town America. Why? I couldn’t tell you but his business plan seemed granite-solid to me: ditch the rowdy regulars who drink and brawl and instead tart up the venue for the millions of teenagers who’s drone minds will instantly switch to autopilot and throw their sweet, sweet underage drinking dollars his way at the end of the night.

Secondly, Patrick Swayze, the best bouncer since forever in the world. He is hired to clear out the drunks, criminals and bums. I think Swayze’s character is supposed to have a name, but let’s be honest here – he’s not here to be that guy. He’s here to be Patrick Swayze. I know this isn’t a concept in itself, more a tool to get paying bums on seats – but just having him in this is odd. The whole thing is odd.

Thirdly, and this kind of tails-on from secondly, there’s this whole Buddhist undertone going on. There’s no visual symbolism in the movie, just certain lines in the script and Patrick Swayze being all angsty about violence and some past-life-“it’s-behind-me-now-I-swear” violence that led to him murdering someone. Again, like everything else with this film, it just doesn’t fit in. It’s half-baked pudding matter, nobody wants raw egg.

So on one hand, we have a villain who is half Francisco Scaramanga and half Wilson, the fence-ridden neighbor in Home Improvement; a good ol’ fashioned 80’s explodey-action flick, and acting that professionals in the pornographic industry could put to shame. On the other hand, we have all these different ill-fitting themes and ideas loosely orbiting around Patrick Swayze just being this really, really, like really nice guy, but is just totally misunderstood and lonely deep down because of some terrible past event or something.

Anyway, without giving away much plot (it would be a task to do so since it’s so lacking), Patrick Swayze makes amends with his past, avenges things generally and comes out trumps over the local liqueur-lord-come-knob. There are roundhouse kicks a plenty, alongside all sorts of wonderful colourful, cheap SFX violence involving knives and guns and fire and monster trucks.

Yet although the acting is shoddy, the soundtrack’s crappy, the plot, the dialogue, the…everything all shit – I did find the film admirable. Admirable, but no way near good. There is ironic humour to be found throughout, but it’s not as good as in films such as The Room or Troll 2. It’s just a bit dull really, but it did have some charm for some weird reason. I can only pin this down to thinking that the director had all these grand ideas and great themes and it just didn’t materialise in the end product, failed dreams.

One upside: I do now understand a good 50% more Family Guy references thanks to this film.


1: if you like to be sincere in your choice of film.

5: if you like Ghost and The Warriors… ironically (you damn foul-smelling hipster).

Review by Aleksander Loesch


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