I always like seeing good parts in a bad movie – you know, where an actor does a great job in the midst of mediocrity. When you can pull a gem of a performance out of a stinker, then you’ve done something as an actor. Ben Gazzara does it very well in “Road House.” Although not a stinker, “Road House” has an excellent premise to launch a film – the best bar “cooler” in the country is hired to clean up a cesspit – and a solid cast to match, but it never works out since it never maintains any credibility or continuity of good acting. So, in the end, “Road House” is seriously flawed but watchable and Gazzara does a great turn. It is a bit bloated at six minutes short of two hours in length and a half-hour could have been easily peeled off to help make it a better film.
(1989; 114 minutes; rated R; directed by Rowdy Herrington and starring Patrick Swayze, Ben Gazzara, Sam Elliott and Kelly Lynch)
THIS ‘COOLER’ IS HOT
Patrick Swayze is mostly OK in “Road House,” but it is a somewhat aging Ben Gazzara who gives the best performance in this late ’80s mix of eye candy and violence. Gazzara, who was 59 at the time of its release, shows the only true acting chops in the “Road House” cast with his character’s always-menacing demeanor. In the end, though, Gazzara’s work doesn’t allow the film to be salvaged and be called good – but it is watchable.
At the same time Gazzara manages to elevate his character (bad guy “Brad Wesley”), both Swayze and Sam Elliott can’t achieve the same and it’s especially depressing from these two since Elliott could have been so much better with the screenwriting having more screen time for him. Ah, well, you can’t re-edit a film that’s 27 years old. As for the rest of the cast … it’s pretty undistinguished (one of the main supporting characters was the co-star on TV’s “Emergency!”) and they do very undistinguished work.
The plot to “Road House” is simple: small-town saloon owner wants to clean up his establishment; he hires the best “cooler” ever (a “cooler” is in charge of bar operations and especially the bouncers); and all of this conflicts with the crooked local businessman who “runs” the town through violence and intimidation. Clashes occur; fights break out (in and out of the club) and the testosterone flows freely. The new “cooler” is too-cool and attracts beautiful women – including the crooked businessman’s special girlfriend. It all comes to a head with Gazzara paying the price for his wicked ways.
Whew. Creative it’s not, but “Road House” keeps you busy with all the ants coming out of many respective ant hills.
OK, so here’s a rundown of some of the primary cast:
- Swayze plays it cool here as “James Dalton” and does a good job. However, his grade drops a bit to just being OK because he has the talent to elevate it but doesn’t manage to pull it off. His coolness is a little too forced a little too often and his good scenes are few and far between. Of course Swayze was a hit in “Ghost” and best remembered for “Dirty Dancing” and was a three-time Golden Globe nominee (not for this one). He died tragically young at 57 of pancreatic cancer in 2009. I thought he was best in the original “Point Break” (click here for my review), but he had his forced moments in that one, too.
- As I already noted, Gazzara does the best work here. He manages his emotions well and always lets you know the menace and cruelty that is the foundation of his character’s soul. I don’t mean it’s an award-winning performance (far from it), but Gazzara’s talent shines through much like José Ferrer did in “Battle Creek Brawl” with Jackie Chan (click here for my review). He had 132 acting credits over a career of seven decades and did TV such as “Run for Your Life” and movies such as “Saint Jack.” Just as it killed Swayze, pancreatic cancer took Gazzara in 2012. He was 81 when he died.
- Kelly Lynch plays “Dr. Elizabeth ‘Doc’ Clay” and has the throw-away part that is Swayze’s love interest in the film. Lynch doesn’t have many acting chops; isn’t given anything to work with here; and even with such a poor part cannot elevate it in any way. She has done TV work such as “Miami Vice” as well as films such as “Charlie’s Angels” and “Curly Sue.” I liked her in “Cocktail” with Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Shue (she’s just OK, but better than here – click here for my review).
- As I also already noted, two-time Golden Globe nominee Elliott (not for this one) is completely wasted here (and I don’t mean he’s on drugs). Elliott was superlative casting as “Wade Garrett,” who is Swayze’s mentor. However, like Lynch, he isn’t given anything to work with here – and he wouldn’t be hindered by a lack of talent (like her). He was much better in basically a bit part in “Thank You for Smoking” (click here for my review) and he is also known for being “The Stranger” in “The Big Lebowski.” I also liked him in the TV movie “The Quick and the Dead.”
- Kevin Tighe is at the top of the supporting cast as “Frank Tilghman,” who is the bar owner who hires Swayze. It’s tough when the top of the supporting cast is a former TV series star and Tighe’s effort shows it – he’s not that good or convincing. He’s been in films such as “K-9” and “Another 48 Hrs.”
The rest of the supporting case is either just marginally decent or embarrassingly bad. You choose … there really isn’t much difference in either description or much of the supporting cast for this film. Kathleen Wilhoite is an exception as “Carrie Ann,” but like others, she doesn’t get a chance to do her best work here.
- Lance Hill wrote “Road House” under the pen name “David Lee Henry.” He also wrote a novel I enjoyed called “The Evil that Men Do.” However, that novel was turned into what is most likely Charles Bronson’s worst film – it’s about as bad a film as you could ever view in two lifetimes.
One final note. I understand how a film’s title can alter a word. Take the Tom Hanks gem “Cast Away.” The title is two words. Of course, Tom was a “castaway” on the island, but he had also been “cast away” from humanity, too. That’s nice use of language, spellilng and meaning with a movie title. However, I don’t understand “Road House.” The word (a synonym for nightclub or saloon) is “roadhouse.” One word. Where the filmmakers got the idea of a two-word roadhouse? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because they were film makers.
“Road House” was the 40th ranked film at U.S. theaters in 1989 with $30 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. It came in right behind “Weekend at Bernie’s” ($30.2 million – click here for my review) and was made on a budget of $15 million. The No. 1 film of the year was “Batman” with $251.1 million and the No. 2 film was the best of them all that year in my opinion: “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” with $197.1 million. Here are other films from that year I have reviewed:
- “Christmas Vacation” (click here for my review)
- “How I Got into College” (click here for my review)
- “Parenthood” (click here for my review)
- “Major League” (click here for my review)
- “Uncle Buck” (click here for my review)
- “Let it Ride” (click here for my review)
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Annette Benning was supposed to play the role ultimately given to Lynch. Good move, filmmakers. The character wasn’t important to the film; Benning wouldn’t have come anywhere close to fitting into the role; and the whole idea of including her in this one is about as bad as the movie turned out.
- Tighe’s real name is Jon Kevin Fishburn.
- Another bad move was to turn “Road House” into an off-Broadway production in 2003. I don’t know any more about it than the brief blurb on the IMDb.com trivia page. Read it for yourself. However, all you need to know for how despicably bad it was is the title of the production: “Road House: The Stage Version Of The Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From The 80’s Cult Classic The Last Dragon (1985) Wearing A Blonde Mullet Wig”
- Swayze wrote one song and sang two for the film’s soundtrack.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “According to Kelly Lynch, whenever Bill Murray sees her sex scene with Patrick Swayze on television, he calls her husband, Mitch Glazer, to tease him about it.”
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “This film is listed among The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE® MOVIE GUIDE.”
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2016.
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