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Film / Road House (1989)

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"Peter, the only 'message' in that movie is that every problem in life can be solved by kicking."
Brian, Family Guy

Road House is a 1989 film directed by Rowdy Herrington and starring Patrick Swayze.

Dalton (Swayze) is a professional "cooler" (read: Bouncer) with a mysterious past who is hired to work for the Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri. In the course of cleaning up the seedy roadside bar, he runs afoul of crime kingpin Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara) who is extorting from the townspeople. A generous helping of Barfight Fu ensues.

A direct-to-DVD sequel, Road House 2: Last Call, was released in 2006 and replaced Dalton with his hitherto unknown son, Shane (Johnathon Schaech), an undercover DEA agent.

It is not related to Road House (1948).

This movie provides examples of:

  • '80s Hair: Dalton sports a classic mullet.
    Mike Nelson: [on RiffTrax] Yes, feathered hair and a mullet! His hair came to play.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • The song "These Arms of Mine" by Otis Redding is playing during the love scene. It was also the song playing in Dirty Dancing during the love scene between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
    • The original tagline referenced Swayze's role in that film: "The dancing's over. Now it gets dirty".
  • Alternate DVD Commentary:
    • The film has the honor of being the inaugural subject for RiffTrax. This movie is Mike Nelson's personal benchmark for So Bad, It's Good movies. It was revisited in 2016, this time with Mike accompanied by Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.
    • There's a 'Trivia Track' on some versions of the DVD.
  • Armed Legs: Ketchum tries to use a knife blade hidden in the toe of his boot against Dalton. Too bad for him, Dalton quickly figures out that he's too stupid to have a good time, and kicks Ketchum's ass anyway.
  • Asshole Victim: When the police arrives to Wesley's home after he has been killed, they make it clear that they are not going to investigate his murder too deeply.
  • Badass Creed:
    • Dalton scatters these around like confetti.
      "All you have to do is follow three simple rules: One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nicenote ."
      "No one ever wins a fight."
    • And no one will ever forget this immortal quote:
  • Bad Boss: Zigzagged by Brad Wesley. He beats the stuffing out of one of his Mooks for failing to strong-arm Dalton and then berates him for bleeding too much, and sure enough, the guy still shows up to work for him every day. Then again, it's also indicated he pays them very well and regularly throws parties for his boys with Hookers and Blow, so there's plenty of incentive to work for the scumbag.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: For someone who can (and does) rip someone's throat out with his bare hands, Dalton is actually a really nice guy. A good example is when he pays the owner of a restaurant to allow a homeless guy to sleep there for the rest of the night. He also encourages politeness among the other bouncers working under him, telling them to "Be nice! It's nothing personal."
  • Big Bad: Brad Wesley, the crime boss terrorizing the entire town.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Jimmy is this. He wants to fight Wade with as much fury as he wants to fight Dalton.
    • Dalton fires one of the bouncers, Morgan, because the guy likes fighting too much and tends to start fights unnecessarily.
      Dalton: You don't have the right temperament for the trade.
  • Bond One-Liner:
    • Dalton gets a couple of these as he dispatches Wesley's men at the mansion.
      "Tails again." Also an Ironic Echo.
      "You're made for each other."
    • A visual example: "It was tails."
  • Brick Joke: Dalton's advice to Jack after laying out Ketchum in one of the earlier fights - "Give me the tallest man in the world. Smash his knee and he'll drop like a stone." Later on in the movie, Wade, who shows up at the Double Deuce just as Dalton is getting triple-teamed, proves that it's sound advice; when the tallest of the three, the aptly nicknamed Mountain, swings at Wade, Wade ducks and immediately goes for the thug's knee.
  • Bringing in the Expert: Dalton is brought in because he is an expert in turning dive bars into respectable establishments. While he is officially the Head Bouncer, he acts as the bar's manager and has the power to fire and hire people. He also acts as a "lightning rod" by focusing all the anger at the changes on himself rather than the bar's owner.
  • The Brute: Half of Wesley's goons have very little in the way of brains, but aren't as much of a threat as his Dragon Jimmy either. Morgan and the unnamed Giant Mook in particular stand out.
  • Buy or Get Lost: Morgan warns Dalton, mistaking him for a customer, "you're not drinkin', you're outta here."
  • Casual Car Giveaway: Dalton gives his old car to a homeless man, as humorously described by The Agony Booth in the page quote.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ketchum's knife. Pulled from Wade's corpse by Dalton, it's used to pin down the accelerator on his car, and recovered by Ketchum. He uses it later in an attempt to kill Dalton, who manages to get the knife away from him and kill him with it.
  • Coitus Interruptus: Dalton walks in on Steve having sex:
    Dalton: Yo, Steve. You're history.
    Steve: But I'm on my break.
    Dalton: Stay on it.
  • Color Motif: According to Rowdy Herrington, he purposely incorporated red into Doc's wardrobe and surroundings. There were a lot of primary colors throughout the movie. "It was a bit of a cartoon in a sense."
  • Cool Car: We initially see Dalton driving a 20 year old Buick, but it's revealed that his real car is a new Mercedes 560SEC which he keeps hidden to prevent it from being targeted by disgruntled bar patrons.
  • Cool Shades: Wade makes his entrance wearing Ray-Bans.
  • Country Matters: Just barely averted. Wade comes close to calling the woman whose husband Dalton tore the throat out of this, but catches himself.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The Jeff Healey Band play the bar's resident band, and perform "When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky" on screen behind the entire end credit roll.
  • Death by Looking Up: Wesley's sole surviving mook gets conked out by a stuffed polar bear which topples over onto him. Rather than step out of the way, he screams and fires his gun at it. (He doesn't actually die, though, and gets the last line of the film.)
  • Depraved Homosexual: Jimmy. Unlike the rest of Wesley's goons, he never seems to show any particular interest in the numerous attractive women he's surrounded by, but his famous quote says all.
    Jimmy: I used to fuck guys like you in prison!
  • Dirty Cop: When the local business owners discuss going to the cops to deal with Wesley's extortion, this idea is immediately thrown out the window since they're apparently ALL in Wesley's pocket.
  • Domestic Abuse: After Brad Wesley's mistress is too forward one time too many with Dalton, she's dragged out of the roadhouse by one of his goons. She's next seen in Wesley's mansion with a bruised-up face.
  • The Dragon: Jimmy is Brad Wesley's right-hand man. Like Dalton he's a trained martial artist, and presents the most difficult fight before Dalton faces Wesley himself.
  • The Drifter: Dalton's lifestyle is to wander from town to town helping the bars that hired him.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Brad Wesley loves his sister enough to promise her to look after her only son by forcing the owner of the Double Deuce to make him the bartender, even if his nephew is a stupid failure.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: A (stuffed) polar bear falling on Tinker added enough levity to an intense scene to evoke some weary laughter.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Wesley's goon sets a speeding car on fire with a single shotgun blast. And by "fire", we mean a fireball that can be seen from space.
  • Evil Counterpart: Jimmy to Dalton. They share martial arts knowledge and even the same first name (though that may be a coincidence).
  • Evil Is Petty: Where do we even begin with Brad Wesley? He flies his helicopter across Emmett's farm to startle the horses, he drives drunk, he destroys shops when he presumes they aren't helping him, and he holds loud house parties.
  • Evil Laugh: Jimmy belts out a hilariously evil cackle after blowing up Emmett's cabin.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: In the tradition of John Carpenter, everybody who's ever heard of Dalton expects him to "be bigger".
  • Fanservice: Want to see the bare butts of Patrick Swayze and Kelly Lynch? You've come to the right place. (Also, lots of barely-dressed ladies in the bar.) Except for background extras, the pixie-like waitress/singer Carrie may be the only woman in the film who never gets at least topless.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Brad Wesley masks his villainy under the guise of being a legitimate business man, and performs his extortion by forming the "Jasper Improvement Society". He has no problem talking down to one of his goons that he just punched in the face for failure, gloating about how he killed Wade and threatening to destroy other businesses after setting one on fire and wrecking another with a monster truck in a businesslike tone of voice.
  • Fauxdian Slip: Wade Garrett's "accidentally" mispronounces the "Double Deuce" as "the Double Douche".
  • Foreshadowing: One time in Memphis, Dalton had to kill a man in self-defense. He ripped his throat out.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Wesley and Dalton first encounter each other on the road, while Wesley is weaving back and forth carelessly and almost runs Dalton off the road. Dalton probably thinks he's an asshole drunk driver and Wesley pays him no mind at all.
  • Friendly Target: Wade Garrett, whose murder sets off Dalton on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Wesley.
  • Genius Bruiser: Dalton has developed a very sophisticated strategy to keep the peace in the bars where he works, rather than just relying on his formidable combat skills to throw out troublemakers. It's also revealed that he has a degree in Philosophy from NYU.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Dalton, who teaches his fellow bouncers to "Be nice, until it's time to not be nice."
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: During her striptease, Wesley's girlfriend Denise covers her breasts with the dress she's just taken off, then with a cowboy hat she borrows from a patron after throwing the dress away, and then with her arms after she puts the hat on. Then she covers them with nothing.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Dalton's fight with Jimmy.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Dalton drives a 1963 Buick Riviera. He has a newer car as well, but he keeps that one out of sight for the most part. The Riviera is what he's seen around town in.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Elizabeth suggests that Dalton could become as terrible as Wesley in trying to take him down, which makes very little sense. At that point Dalton hadn't even done anything close to Wesley's blatant criminality and extortion. He does kill his goon Jimmy right after this, but only after he'd just tried to murder the farmer Emmett in his sleep and was about to shoot Elizabeth herself, and it's hinted that the police are so corrupt that he would have walked straight out of jail if Dalton had attempted a citizen's arrest. It's not until after Wesley has Dalton's mentor Wade murdered that Dalton decides the gloves are off and goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Hollywood Old: Wade Garrett. Due to Sam Elliott being younger than he looks, (he was 43-44 during the time of filming), his character is treated as much older. It is most notable when Morgan insults him by referring to him as "Dad", despite the fact that Terry Funk is actually 2 months older than Sam Elliott.
  • Hidden Weapons: During a fight scene, Jimmy tries to kill Dalton with a Smith & Wesson model 60 revolver he had concealed in an ankle holster. Near the end of the movie, Wesley also attempts to kill Dalton with a hidden ankle-piece, this one a Intratec .38 caliber Derringer.
  • Hope Spot: A group of local businessmen gathers to discuss Wesley's excesses, and Pete Stoudenmire says he has a friend in the FBI he can contact to get Wesley shut down legally. In the next scene, Wesley reveals that he found out about Stoudenmire's efforts, and he has a monster truck driven through the man's auto dealership, demolishing the stock and cementing Wesley's hold on the town.
  • Hospital Hottie: Doc, played by Kelly Lynch.
    Wade Garrett: That gal's got entirely too many brains to have an ass like that.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: The most infamous line in the movie, Dalton's Signature Line and Badass Boast, "Pain don't hurt." What the hell does that mean? Of course pain hurts! It's pain!
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Jimmy's fate, in what is one of the most (in)famous examples in cinema. In their final fight, Dalton finishes him off by ripping his throat out with his bare hands.
  • I Own This Town: Wesley likes to remind the local business owners of that fact, punctuating the line with a smug "And don't you forget it." See directly below for the payoff.
  • Ironic Echo: "This is OUR town, and don't YOU forget it". Said in the climax by the angry store owners as they blast Wesley with shotguns.
  • Karmic Death: Wesley at the end gets killed by the same men he terrorized and extorted over the years.
  • Large Ham: Wesley and Jimmy.
  • Local Hangout: The Double Deuce is where the locals like to hang out.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Brad Wesley.
  • Martial Pacifist: Dalton generally prefers to solve problems with diplomacy, but won't hesitate to deliver a beatdown to someone who can't be reasoned with.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Wade Garrett.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: The only thing Tinker ever manages to do is show up, fail at whatever he came to accomplish, and get the crap knocked out of him repeatedly by Dalton. He's ultimately defeated by a stuffed polar bear, and given the consolation prize of being the only goon to survive the movie, and even gets the last line in the film.
    Tinker: A polar bear fell on me.
  • Mook Horror Show: The climax has Dalton picking off Wesley’s mooks one by one.
  • Mr. Exposition: Cody is always on hand introducing characters. The Agony Booth says "Think of him as this movie's emcee" in their recap.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Denise, Wesley's girlfriend. Most of her role involves wearing tight aerobics gear, bikinis, or skimpy dresses (and in her memorable striptease, not even that).
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Wesley buys it in the climax by being blasted four times by shotguns by the finally fed up store owners.
  • The Musical: One exists(!), and ran off-Broadway. Its full title is 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 Wearing a Blonde Mullet Wig.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Jimmy, The Dragon, does not have the chance to kill Dalton "the old-fashioned way" with his gun. Later, Dalton disarms the knife-wielding Ketchum and skewers him.
  • New Old West: The genesis of the movie was a modern interpretation of Shane.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Dalton and Wade were just about ready to leave town when the problem became too much. Then Wesley decided to have Wade killed.
  • No, Mister Bond, I Expect You To Dine: Wesley "invites" Dalton to his place, and offers him first a Bloody Mary, and then some breakfast. Dalton declines both, however.
  • Noodle Incident: That time Dalton killed a man in Memphis...
  • One-Liner: This movie has several of them.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Freeze-Frame Bonus during Dalton's first meeting with Clay shows that his first name, never mentioned onscreen, is James. Thus, sharing the name with Jimmy, The Dragon to Wesley.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Inspired the classic Christmas song, "Let's have a Patrick Swayze Christmas" on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
    Oh, let's have a Patrick Swayze Christmas this year
    Or we'll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear!
    • The movie's title, or variations on it, have also become a catchphrase of Peter Griffin's.
  • Pop the Tires: Dalton keeps multiple spare tires in the trunk of his car. He is used to having disgruntled bar patrons put holes in his tires and prepares accordingly.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Dalton's Mercedes is beloved enough by him that he makes sure to purchase a car on each town he arrives to in order to use everyday and allow pissed off customers to trash. Dalton uses the Mercedes in the climactic raid on Wesley's home as a distraction by sending it on a suicidal charge towards Wesley's goons and it gets shot to explosive smithereens.
  • Prepare to Die: Jimmy throws this line at Dalton right before their Duel to the Death. Dalton basically calls him a cliché in response.
    Jimmy: Prepare to die!
    Dalton: You are such an asshole.
  • Prison Rape: Mentioned in one fight scene.
    Jimmy: I used to fuck guys like you in prison!
  • Psycho for Hire: Jimmy.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • Tinker. He's the only one of Wesley's goons who isn't a straight up asshole, and comes off as more comical than menacing.
    • Morgan is a complete jerk, but he's only with Wesley because Dalton fired him.
  • A Rare Sentence: "A polar bear fell on me," is probably one of the most bizarre last lines of any movie.
  • Rasputinian Death: In the end, it takes four separate shotgun blasts to put Wesley down. Say what you will about the old bastard, but he definitely didn't go easy.
  • Rebel Relaxation: Dalton on the box art. You rock that wall, sir.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: One of Wesley’s goons is holding his shotgun by the barrel and using the stock to scratch a spot on his back.
  • Ripped from the Headlines/Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film was inspired by the death of Ken ‘Rex’ McElroy, a town bully and thug who ruled Skidmore, Missouri with an iron fist and who was shot to death in plain view by several of the townspeople . Nobody saw anything then either.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: It's finally time for Dalton to not be nice after Wesley's goons murder Wade. Until that point he had done everything in his power to not fight Wesley directly, finally driving straight towards his mansion, taking out every single one of his goons before nearly killing Wesley himself.
  • Roundhouse Kick: The movie has quite a few of these.
  • Rule of Cool: In full effect throughout the movie.
  • Sadistic Choice: Towards the end, Wesley threatens to kill Elizabeth or Wade. Wade gets killed.
  • Say My Name: "WESLEY!"
  • Serious Business: Bouncing, to the point that Dalton is apparently famous throughout the nation for it. The movie shows that the real reason Dalton is in such high demand is because he also acts as consultant/manager who can turn a failing dive bar into a profitable and respected establishment.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: In 2003, an off-Broadway musical production was staged as a campy comedy by Timothy Haskell, as seen by its full title of 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 Wearing A Blonde Mullet Wig.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: When Dalton first arrives, Wesley offers him lucrative employment to switch sides and help extort the very business he was brought in to protect. Dalton declines, preferring to honor his first agreement (and not involve himself with someone like Wesley).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Wesley.
  • Self Stitching: Dalton does it after the opening brawl. He's had so much practice stitching himself up a professional doctor compliments the quality of the stitching.
  • Sex at Work: Steve the bouncer gets fired when Dalton catches him having sex with a customer during working hours.
    Steve: But I'm on my break!
    Dalton: Stay on it.
  • Shirtless Scene: And Walking Shirtless Scene by extension.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Everybody has heard of Dalton, but they all thought he'd be bigger.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: Calling the cops on Wesley's extortion is impossible because he owns the local police and when one of the store owners tries to go directly to the FBI, the film cuts to a few hours later during which Wesley found out about this somehow, prevented it from happening, and wrecks the guy's business with a monster truck to deliver a lesson about what will happen if they don't bend the knee.
  • Slimeball:
    • Brad Wesley, a wealthy, egomaniac small-town tyrant who acts like he's some major-league wheeler and dealer (the JC Penney is coming here because of him!), but can only barely hide his unpleasant true self for the span of a polite conversation.
    • This is one thing Tilghman might have over Wesley himself. While he's not written as anything worse than a neutral figure with a mercenary edge, Frank Tighe plays him as so repulsively oily that he practically slides into every scene on a grease trail.
  • Smug Snake: Brad Wesley
  • Stealing from the Till: Dalton fires a bartender because he regularly steals from the bar.
  • The Stoic: Dalton. "Pain don't hurt" indeed.
  • Stout Strength: Both Tinker the Mook and Jack (one of the bouncers) are chubby guys who handle themselves decently well in fistfights, although neither is a match for top-notch combatants like Dalton, Jimmy, and Wade.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: It is a Joel Silver production.
  • Sword over Head: Dalton is this close to performing his "rip out your throat" Finishing Move on a stunned Brad Wesley. He finally puts his hands down and turns toward Dr. Clay. Wesley replies by pulling out another pistol.
  • Taking the Fight Outside: Subverted in the opening. Dalton is attacked by an unruly patron with a knife, so he suggests that they "take it outside". As soon as they set foot out the door, Dalton simply instructs his bouncers to form a human wall to keep them out. More generally, Dalton later advises the bouncers working under him in his new job at the Double Deuce to never start a fight inside the bar to deal with troublemakers unless it's absolutely necessary.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: Brad Wesley's game room.
  • Taxidermy Terror: Tinker, the only survivor among the Big Bad's Mooks, is so freaked out by the various stuffed animals surrounding him that he faints when one falls on him.
    Tinker: A polar bear fell on me...
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Brad is blasted at point-blank range by 4 different shotguns (wielded by the four businessmen Brad harassed throughout the film). Then he falls through a glass table. They tell Dalton to escape while they tell the police Brad Cut Himself Shaving.
  • Trophy Wife: Wesley's girlfriend, Denise. He clearly keeps her around because of how hot she is, and judging by her "dance", she's likely a former stripper.
  • Tyrannical Town Tycoon: Brad Wesley exemplifies this trope, being able to do pretty much whatever he pleases while leaching off the citizens of Jasper using his son and the local police force to maintain order.
  • Villain Has a Point: Wesley suggests that Dalton secretly enjoys violence when he tries to recruit him. While Dalton rejects his offer in no uncertain terms, he is clearly a bit rankled when Wesley also brings up that Dalton once killed a man in Memphis and speculates that it was not entirely self-defense (Dalton was attacked, but he went overboard and ripped the man's throat out).
  • Warrior Therapist: Dalton tries really hard to be this, with mixed results.
  • We Can Rule Together: After Dalton has established he's not simply going to go away by sending one or two goons after him, Wesley attempts to recruit him, offering to pay him way more than he could ever make at the Double Deuce.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Denise, Brad Wesley's current trophy wife, disappears from the movie after the little strip show in the Double Deuce.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Dalton stops himself from tearing Wesley's throat out, because If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!. Somehow, all the Mooks he slaughtered didn't count.
  • The Worf Effect:
    • Despite showing himself as a badass bouncer, Dalton gets in big trouble trying to take on Wesley's mooks, simply so his friend/mentor Wade Garrett's own badass bouncer credentials can be established.
    • Wade himself later has a lot more trouble dealing with an experienced fighter like Jimmy than Dalton himself, but it's repeatedly stated that he's getting on in age, with the implication that he could have taken Jimmy if he were in his prime.
  • Would Hit a Girl: When Dalton goes over to Wesley's mansion, he sees Wesley's moll, Denise, with bruises on her face, which she ashamedly tries to hide.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Morgan, the original head bouncer, is way too agressive and theatrical, even lifting up an unruly patron over his head and throwing him at a table. His actor, Terry Funk, is a professional wrestler.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Denise's dance at the Double Deuce when Wesley and his goons confront Dalton. Since they're not a strip club, Dalton drags her off the stage after she takes her top off.
    If you're gonna have a pet, keep it on a leash.