Why you need to watch 1989's ‘Road House’ before Prime Video’s reboot

Patrick Swayze in Road House (1989)
(Image credit: Alamy)

The 1980s ushered in a new type of action movie. While the minor details changed from film to film, the formula remained the same: larger-than-life characters entering difficult situations where they must punch, kick, and kill their way out of trouble. These movies frequently featured over-the-top, sometimes borderline ridiculous, action sequences intertwined with cheesy, hilarious dialogue. 

A film that perfectly represents this style of action filmmaking is “Road House,” a quintessential ‘80s movie that has a reboot dropping on Prime Video this week.

If you’ve never seen “Road House,” here’s the synopsis: Dalton, played by the late Patrick Swayze, is an elite bouncer working security for a New York City club. Frank Tillman (Kevin Tighe) recruits Dalton to run security at The Double Deuce in Missouri, a run-down bar where the customers are rowdy, the employees are sleazy, and the fights are violent. It’s so bad that the band plays behind a chicken wire screen for protection from flying bottles. Dalton accepts the position and slowly turns The Double Deuce into a respectable establishment, much to the ire of Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), a wealthy businessman whose money, power, and influence control the town.

Patrick Swayze is the perfect combination of looks, brains and brawn

Every “Road House” discussion has to start with Swayze, a man guys want to be and women want to be with. Earlier in the decade, Swayze was known for playing stoic and brave characters, like Darry in “The Outsiders” and Jed in “Red Dawn.” In 1987, Swayze became a global sensation as the suave Johnny Castle in “Dirty Dancing. According to Hannah Waddingham, there has not been a man “who’s been as hot as Patrick Swayze.” It’s a fair point!

When “Road House” came around in 1989, Swayze was in the middle of a five-year run when he became one of the five biggest stars in Hollywood. Yet, Swayze is an unlikely action star when compared to his contemporaries. He’s not as jacked as Sylvester Stallone nor as funny as Bruce Willis. However, Swayze is the perfect guy to play Dalton, the wisest and most intelligent bouncer to work in a bar. Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger reciting the line about how being called a c***sucker isn’t personal because it’s “two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.” It would ruin the credibility of the moment. Swayze says it, and you’re nodding in agreement because it’s so ridiculous that it has to make sense.

Swayze is no slouch on the physicality. Dalton kicks butt and takes names the entire movie, which is the way it should be in an ‘80s action movie. His dancing background led to flawless roundhouse kicks during the fight scenes. Everything about Dalton is a snapshot of the era, from the high-waisted jeans and the shaggy mullet to the tucked-in t-shirt and affinity for cigarettes. At one point, Dalton wakes up in his un-air-conditioned barn, throws on a pair of jeans to cover his butt, lights a cigarette, and drinks a cup of coffee. That is “dudes rock” to the highest degree.

Is ‘Road House’ in on the joke?

One question: Is “Road House” in on the joke? Do those involved know how absurd the plot gets and how comical the dialogue can be? Think about it. “Road House” makes it a point to emphasize that Dalton is the best “cooler,” not the best bouncer. That’s like the garbageman who tells people he’s a sanitation engineer. 

Patrick Swayze in Road House (1989)

(Image credit: Alamy)

I believe Swayze and the actors were not in on the joke. That’s why “Road House” works as an action movie. In Swayze’s mind, “Road House” is a Western, and Swayze is the lawman tasked with cleaning the streets of a corrupt town. Dalton is an educated man who, in his spare time, reads books and practices tai chi. Keep in mind that this is a film where Dalton rips another man’s throat out (more on that later). Swayze takes the material seriously. As a result, the audience looks past the silliness and believes Dalton is a Renaissance man and a bouncer with a heart. 

It also helps to have overqualified actors and crew members in “Road House.” Gazzara is an Emmy-nominated, classily-trained actor. Sam Elliot is a critically acclaimed actor who plays Dalton’s mentor, Wade Garrett. Dean Cundey is an Oscar-nominated cinematographer who shot the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Jurassic Park.” Co-writer Hilary Henkin penned the Academy Award-nominated script, “Wag the Dog,” with David Mamet. “Road House” is not direct-to-DVD garbage. It looks and feels like a classic action movie. 

‘Road House’ is unapologetically absurd 

Is “Road House” the best action movie of all time? Absolutely not. If you’re looking for highly choreographed fight sequences and impressive stunt work, watch “The Matrix” or “John Wick.” “Road House” is a barroom brawl from start to finish. It isn’t about having the most skill. It’s about who can take and throw a punch, and whoever does that the best will win. 

While it’s not the best action movie, “Road House” is in the running for the funniest action movie. From the dialogue to the character development, “Road House” is unapologetically absurd, resulting in a more entertaining film. Take Brad Wesley, who will lie, cheat, and steal his way to become the most powerful man in the town. From the moment he’s introduced, he’s a bad guy. He loves to inflict pain on anyone who disobeys him, from Dalton and Red (Red West) to Wade and Denise (Julie Michaels). Did “Road House” need a scene of Wesley ordering one of his lieutenants to drive a monster truck through a car dealership to prove his vileness to the audience? No, it did not, but it’s awesome to watch.

The dialogue is where the true comedy lies in “Road House.” There’s no shortage of cheesy one-liners, including the “I thought you’d be bigger” line said to Dalton by multiple characters. There is a conversation between Dalton and his love interest, Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), where he puts his NYU philosophy degree to good use when he channels his inner Buddha by saying, “Nobody ever wins a fight.” Put that quote in “The Art of Seduction.”

Finally, a line recited by Jimmy Reno (Marshall Teague) will leave you dead in your tracks. During the climactic fight, an aroused Jimmy tells Dalton that he used to “f— guys like him in prison.” Did Jimmy think a fight was a good time to profess his love for Dalton? Is Jimmy trying to emasculate Dalton by saying he would be the one to be the dominant force in their sexual encounter? It is the wildest moment of the movie until Dalton kills Jimmy by ripping his throat out moments later. Your jaw will most certainly hit the ground watching this scene.

Before the reimaging of “Road House” with Jake Gyllenhaal hits Prime Video, make sure to revisit the original ‘80s classic. It’s worth your time, mijos

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Dan Girolamo

Dan is a talented content creator who specializes in pop culture, entertainment, and sports. His entertainment interviews have been featured on Digital Trends, where he has spoken with various actors and entertainers, including Brendan Fraser, Alison Brie, and James Cameron. Additionally, Dan is a sportswriter with The Sports Daily, breaking down the top news in the NFL and NBA while providing picks and predictions for each league. Other bylines include ComingSoon.net, Unafraid Show, Fansided, and WatchMojo. When he’s not working, Dan enjoys rooting for his favorite New York sports teams and watching the latest movie from Christopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese.