Classic Intel: Road House - TV Review

'An action movie in a way that action movies aren't allowed to exist any more, unless they're shot through with irony or are lampooning the genre'.

Phrases such as "so bad it's good" and "guilty pleasure" are as prominent in cinema today as they have ever been, and are just as lazy and non-committal as when they were first coined. Assigning guilt to enjoying certain films is essentially stating that some forms of entertainment are inherently better than others, when all it really comes down to - as with many other aspects of cinema - is a matter of both opinion and taste. If you enjoyed watching a film then say so, and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

Road House is undoubtedly a film that has been saddled with these labels time and time again, and initially perhaps it's easy to see why. Despite being released in the decade's final year, the film perspires eighties style from every pore; it's also an action movie in a way that action movies aren't allowed to exist any more, unless they're shot through with irony or are lampooning the genre. The plot too is simple: brought in to reestablish order at the anarchic Double Deuce nightclub in Jasper, Missouri, experienced bouncer Dalton (Patrick Swayze) soon finds himself at odds with local tycoon Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who has a stranglehold on the whole town.

The key criticisms of Road House largely come from a misreading of the film's entire set-up. This is clearly not a story grounded in realism, and yet that seems to be the stick by which the film is regularly measured. The near-total lack of police presence, for example, is often cited as one of the story's weaknesses, even as a "plot hole" (another cinematic term bandied around lazily and, more often than not, inaccurately). Director Rowdy Herrington explains this very matter straightforwardly without labouring the point: Wesley controls the local law enforcement, which from a narrative point of view allows him to get away with everything he does throughout the film. But to ask questions such as this of Road House is to misunderstand what type of story is being told. This is in essence the legend of a lone warrior. If Dalton was a solitary gunman in the Old West, or a r┼Źnin in feudal Japan, these supposed "holes" would not even be considered; just because the time and place has been transferred to the American Midwest in the 1980s doesn't make them any more valid.

That's not to put Road House on equal footing with the cinema of Leone or Kurosawa; this is never a film of that level of refinement. But that's not to say that Herrington's film isn't immensely enjoyable throughout. On the most basic level, Road House delivers solid action and fight scenes set to a rollicking rock soundtrack that consistently deliver throughout. Swayze makes a formidable bad-ass, and when Sam Elliott turns up as Dalton's mentor Wade Garrett to join the bar room brawls things get even better. Whether you buy into Road House as an '80s take on the vigilante hero narrative, or view it as a simple but effective cult action film, there's no denying the sheer entertainment Herrington garners from his premise.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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