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Laramie Movie Scope: Road House

Arriving late at a cult classic

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 25, 2024 – I always thought of this as a junk action movie, not as a cult classic, but I was always reminded of it every time I watched “Fever Pitch” (2005). There is a funny scene in Fever Pitch where Ben (Jimmy Fallon) reacts to Lindsey's statement that she loves the movie “Annie Hall,” as if that is the movie he rented for them to watch one night, but instead, the film he pulls out of a plastic bag, is “Road House.” “What are the odds?” he says.

Nonetheless I never really considered watching this movie until I saw that a remake of it, starring Jake Gyllenhaal is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Jake is a very talented actor, so there must be something to this movie. So I watched the original, and it is actually pretty good.

The best thing about it is the music. The late Patrick Swayze (“Ghost”) stars as James Dalton, the best bouncer in the known universe, who is asked by bar owner Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe of “Mumford”) to clean up his out-of-control Missouri bar, the Double Deuce. This is a really crappy, run down place, but it has an absolutely killer band, playing behind chicken wire to protect it from the flying beer bottles (just like the Bob's Country Bunker cage in “Blues Brothers” (1980).

This killer band at the Double Deuce is a real killer band in real life, the Jeff Healey Band (the band's best known song is “Angel Eyes”). The band is led by a blind musician named Cody (the late Jeff Healey) who happens to know Dalton and his bouncer friend Wade Garrett (Sam Elliot of “We Were Soldiers”) from a time before they both came to the Double Deuce the fight the bad guys.

The Jeff Healey Band provides much of the movie's soundtrack, playing all through it, even over the end credits. This band is really impressive. The band is joined by another talented musician, Kathleen Wilhoite (who plays the waitress Carrie in the movie) who sings the Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper song “Knock on Wood.” Steve Cropper's name should be familiar to you because he is a Grammy Award winning guitarist, songwriter and producer. He was not only on screen in the Blues Brothers band, but he was in the Mar-Keys and the Booker T. & the M.G.s (essentially the house band for Stax Records) bands. He was an prolific songwriter and producer at Stax.

The impressive soundtrack for the movie includes songs by Bob Seeger, Dion, Wilson Pickett, Alabama, George Strait, Little Feat and Otis Redding. The song “Cliff's Edge,” heard on the film's soundtrack, is written and performed by the star of the film, Patrick Swayze.

Swayze is a charismatic actor who exudes confidence and keeps his cool, even when provoked. I was struck by how much Dalton, the character he plays in this film, is similar to Bodhi, the character he plays in a later film, “Point Break” (1991). There are elements of Eastern mysticism floating around him. In one scene, he does Tai Chi exercises. He exudes a kind of Zen, and there is more than a whiff of Kung Fu in his fighting style. He reportedly does a lot of his own stunts in this, and other movies.

The bad guy in the film is a local mob boss, Brad Wesley, played by veteran actor Ben Gazzara (“Saint Jack”) who seems to be having fun playing the heavy in this film. Wesley is running a protection racket, skimming money from all the local businesses, and is not above murdering people who oppose him. Wesley and Dalton dance around each other for most of the film. Their final confrontation is very violent, and totally unsurprising.

There is quite a bit of partial nudity in the movie, and one fairly steamy sex scene between Dalton and Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch of “Drugstore Cowboy.” Is it just me, or was it that Hollywood was really more casual about nudity way back in the last century? Maybe it was because the highly political culture wars were not such a big thing back in 1989. If that's the case, then it is another reason to hate the culture wars.

The action highlight of the film is a fight between Dalton and the equally dangerous Jimmy Reno (Marshall Teague of “Armageddon”). Like the other fight scenes in the movie, it is very well staged by stunt coordinator Charles Picerni and martial arts technical adviser Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez, who also trained the cast in fighting techniques for this film. Urquidez (a kickboxer who also worked with Jackie Chan) appears in the film as a henchman (uncredited) in an expensive scene of a monster truck destroying a car dealership.

While the basic story is predictable, the acting is solid and the music is great. This movie has a lot going for it. Maybe some day more of the deleted scenes will come out. Reportedly, the film's first cut was almost three and a half hours. It was cut back to less than two hours. It is well paced, nevertheless. This movie rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2024 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]