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An Exhaustive Breakdown of Patrick Swayze’s ‘Road House’

The 1989 movie about the best damn bouncer you’ve ever seen is more like a religious experience

(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Ringer illustration)
(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Ringer illustration)

All week, The Ringer will be celebrating Good Bad Movies, those films that are so terrible they’re endlessly amusing and — dare we say it? — actually good. Please join us as we give the over-the-top action movies, low-budget romance thrillers, and peak ’80s cheese-fests the spotlights they deserve.

The 1989 Patrick Swayze–starring film Road House isn’t a movie so much as it is a religious experience, and one that defines the Good Bad Movies genre. There may have been terribly awesome films before it, but as far as I’m concerned Road House invented the concept and is the standard by which every other Good Bad Movie should be judged. But in preparing to compose the opus you are currently reading — which required rewatching Road House three times in the past week — I came to a realization that can be summed up using a paraphrased quote from Emmet, the bearded dude who lets Patrick Swayze live in his barn: “Writing about Road House is like putting an elevator in an outhouse — it don’t belong.”

Seriously, have you ever read an entire article about Road House? My point is: It’s nearly impossible to write an article about Road House that doesn’t make you want to quit reading halfway through — solely because you just want to go watch Road House again. But it must be done — it’s Good Bad Movies Week, and Road House is the main reason such a week can exist. So we will forge ahead, covering every single fleck of gold from this cinematic classic over the course of multiple, ecstatically in-depth lists.

It’s going to be so great that the only people who might actually be able to read the entire thing are those who have never seen Road House. And if that happens to be you, let me just stop right here and say that you should come back and finish reading this after watching Road House.

First, the basics. Here’s the best spoiler-free synopsis I can give you: Road House stars Patrick Swayze as Dalton (no idea if that’s his first or last name because he just goes by “Dalton” throughout the movie), who is basically Jon Taffer, if Jon Taffer was more laid-back and had glistening muscles and a philosophy degree from NYU. He’s inexplicably world-famous for being a “cooler” (which is like a bouncer only, um, cooler?), and a bar owner in Jasper, Missouri, who wants to improve a dive bar he owns called “Double Deuce” tries to hire Dalton away from his current gig in New York. Dalton seems to understand that he’s a character in a movie and that it would kill the pacing of the film for him to take a few days to think about whether he should move halfway across the country to fight drunk rednecks in the middle of nowhere, so he accepts the offer immediately. He shows up in Missouri to find a bar where beer bottles constantly fly through the air, women are sexually assaulted, verbal arguments turn to knife fights with the snap of a finger, and not a single cop car or ambulance is anywhere to be found. Dalton eventually goes full Taffer on the place and cleans it up, much to the delight of the bar owner, who watches Dalton work his magic with an orgasmic smirk on his face like he’s Vince McMahon watching Roman Reigns land a Superman punch. Along the way, Dalton takes down a bunch of bad guys, has sex with one of the token hot chicks in town (she’s a doctor, which proves how classy Dalton is), turns down the advances of another (ditto), saves an old dude’s life, and occasionally wears a karate uniform top tucked into his jeans.

(MGM)
(MGM)

If you still aren’t sold, here is our first list:

Eight Mind-Blowingly Absurd/Awesome Things That Happen in the First 15 Minutes of ‘Road House’

  • A man puts a $100 bill on a table; a woman stabs the $100 bill for some reason, and then the man kicks her chair over, causing her to fall backward. When bouncers come to throw him out, he punches one of them in the face. He then grabs the knife that the woman used on the $100 bill and uses it to stab Dalton in the arm, citing that he’s “always wanted to try [Dalton]” as his motivation. Dalton does not flinch — no one does, for that matter. After the guy and his buddy eventually get escorted out of the bar, Dalton stitches up his own stab wound in a back office.
  • Dalton pulls his 1964 Buick Riviera to the side of the road and tosses the keys to an old man sitting on the sidewalk, telling him that the car is now his. Dalton then uncovers a Mercedes-Benz in a parking garage, hops inside, and peels out. No explanation is given as to why he swapped out cars or why anything in this scene is relevant in any way.
  • As Dalton approaches Double Deuce, a group of bikers notice his Mercedes and ask him, “Hey hotshot, what’s wrong with Dee-troit cars?”
  • The Double Deuce house band is led by a blind man (played by real blind musician Jeff Healey), who plays a lap guitar and has to perform inside a cage made of chicken wire because the patrons of the bar throw beer bottles at him so often.
  • A woman pulls a wad of cash from her cleavage to pay her waitress for drugs.
  • A woman orders a “vodka rocks” at the bar. A man sitting nearby hears her order and says, “Hey vodka rocks, whaddya say you and me get nipple-to-nipple?” It is the first and last time anyone anywhere has used that phrase.
  • The owner of the Double Deuce uses a Sharpie to change “FUCK” to “BUICK” on a wall of graffiti so the message would instead read, “FOR A GREAT BUICK CALL 555–7617.”
  • And last but not least, the greatest scene in the history of motion pictures: A man offers a woman’s “pair of attitudes” to a random guy at the bar, telling him that for 20 bucks he can kiss them “here and now.” The random guy then aggressively fondles the woman’s breasts, which is apparently perfectly acceptable behavior to all parties involved. But when the random guy says he can’t kiss the breasts because he doesn’t have $20, all hell breaks loose and everyone in the entire bar starts fighting each other. I should again mention that no police are called, despite the thousands of dollars in damages done to the bar and the countless charges of attempted murder that could be filed.

Has any movie ever had a stronger first 15 minutes? The answer is no. While we’re at it, I don’t think any movie has had a stronger last 99 minutes. Which brings us to our second list:

Thirteen Mind-Blowingly Absurd/Awesome Things That Happen in the Last 99 Minutes of ‘Road House’

  • The homoerotic scenes featuring Patrick Swayze, most notably the one where he practices tai chi with his shirt off as multiple men gaze at him in amazement.
  • The villain of the film, Brad Wesley, weaves back and forth on a two-lane road in his convertible while singing the Crew Cuts’ “Sh-Boom,” just because he can.
  • Sam Elliott is in this movie, as Dalton’s cooler mentor who also kinda-sorta tries to steal his girlfriend.
  • Sam Elliott shows his pubes.
  • Large mountains appear in the background throughout the movie (including a shot with a sign giving directions to Los Angeles and Bakersfield) despite it being set in rural Missouri:
(MGM)
(MGM)
  • An enormous explosion happens every time anything catches even a little on fire.
  • Wesley’s main henchman uses a pool cue like a bo staff as he mows down bouncers. Then, he shoves the same cue into the incapacitated body of a bouncer to launch himself onto the Double Deuce stage, like a pole vaulter.
  • A guy destroys a car dealership by driving a monster truck through it. Let me repeat that, this time in all caps, just so you understand that it wasn’t a typo: A GUY DESTROYS A CAR DEALERSHIP BY DRIVING A MONSTER TRUCK THROUGH IT. This happens almost an hour and a half into the movie and it still doesn’t warrant a police response. The movie sort of explains this away by saying Wesley has all of the police in his pocket, but my god — how much money is he paying the Jasper PD for them to completely ignore the millions of dollars of property damage we see throughout the film and the dozens of attempted murders that seem to happen every single night?
  • In perhaps the most iconic scene of Road House, acted out here by Andy Dwyer, Dalton chases down the main henchman — on foot — and tackles him off a motorcycle. He then kills the guy by ripping his throat out of his neck with his bare hands.
  • Dalton drives his Mercedes at a group of bad guys who are waiting for him. The bad guys shoot at the car, the car explodes (obviously), and it appears that they have killed Dalton … only Dalton isn’t in the car! He had rigged it to accelerate by stabbing the gas pedal before jumping out of the driver’s seat.
  • Dalton crushes a bad guy named Tinker with a giant taxidermied polar bear. Despite having a full 13 seconds to simply take one step out of the way, Tinker instead stands still, shoots at the bear, and gets flattened.
  • In the climactic fight, Dalton pins Wesley and cocks his hand back for his patented throat-rip move. But then Dalton, who literally kicks the shit out of people for a living and has already killed a handful of Wesley’s henchmen, pauses for 19 seconds as he contemplates whether he should go through with killing the man who just killed his best friend and is one of the most evil men in America. He ultimately decides against it, signifying that he’s matured and is ready to settle down with the aforementioned doctor lady.
  • Wesley gets killed in cold blood via four shotgun shells to the torso. When the cops arrive — mind you, this is the FIRST SIGN OF POLICE in this town in the entire movie, and it comes in the final five minutes — the guys who shot Wesley all pretend like they didn’t see what happened. The cops accept the “I didn’t see nothing” story and treat the scene of bloody corpses scattered about as a big misunderstanding. Somehow, the FBI never gets involved.

I can’t put it in any simpler terms: Road House is a masterpiece that should honestly be required viewing to obtain U.S. citizenship. But the real underappreciated genius of Road House — along with the fact that it was directed by a guy whose first name is “Rowdy” — is that the dialogue is just as great as the action. So here is one final list:

My Power Rankings of the Movie’s Best One-Liners

10. “You’re right. I oughta stop telling you what to do. Maybe I oughta kick your ass.” — Wade Garrett

Sam Elliott’s character, Wade Garrett, says this to Dalton when the two have a disagreement about whether they should stay in this lawless town in the middle of nowhere that’s run by a maniacal rich dude trying to kill them. Both have very compelling reasons to feel the way they do: Dalton, who is regularly having sex with one of the town’s residents, wants to stay. Garrett, who is not doing that, wants to leave.

It’s a great line for two reasons: (1) a character in an action movie saying he’s going to kick someone’s ass to their face is pretty much the biggest insult he can dish out; and (2) it’s one of the few semi-deep moments in the movie, as Dalton — who is basically a pacifist thanks to his philosophy degree — tries to punch Garrett after this line is said. Garrett — an old-school brute who never turns down a chance to fight — catches Dalton’s fist, tells Dalton that he’s learned a lot from him, and calmly walks away.

9. “When a man sticks a gun in your face, you got two choices: You can die or you can kill the motherf**ker.” — Garrett

Garrett drops this line early, giving us a glimpse into how his mind works. By the end of the movie, though, he has learned that there’s a third option — that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. He eventually becomes content with walking away from both his fight with Dalton and the overarching war with Wesley. And then he gets killed.

8. “Nobody ever wins a fight.” — Dalton

7. “Pain don’t hurt.” — Dalton

I’m convinced that Dalton’s backstory of having a philosophy degree exists solely so he can say these two lines. That said, “Pain don’t hurt” is such a perfect Road House one-liner that it should have been the tagline for the movie.

6. “I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing missing is your ass.” — Brad Wesley

5. “I used to f*ck guys like you in prison.” — Jimmy (Wesley’s main henchman)

One of the more underrated aspects of Road House is that Wesley and his crew graduated from the Shooter McGavin School of Dishing Out Insults That Sounded So Much Cooler in Your Head.

4. “You’re too stupid to have a good time.” — Dalton

This line is basically the entirety of Road House in a nutshell: It’s terribly executed and makes no damn sense whatsoever, but Patrick Swayze’s sex appeal and ass-kicking ability somehow make it work.

3. “I sure ain’t gonna show you my dick.” — Garrett

This is just an all-time classic witty thing to say before a fight.

2. “Hey vodka rocks, whaddya say you and me get nipple-to-nipple?” — Random guy at the bar

Absurd and completely unnecessary one-liners like this are the icing on the Road House cake.

1. “I want you to be nice … until it’s time to not be nice.” — Dalton

This is the no-brainer no. 1 line from Road House and the reason so many consider this movie a religious experience. I mean, what other worldview does anyone really need? Be nice! And when the time comes to no longer be nice, stop being nice! What’s so hard about that?

So yeah, I think I speak for the rest of America when I say that Road House is a masterpiece that practically invented and literally perfected the concept of a Good Bad Movie. And if you disagree, well, it’s probably because you’re too stupid to have a good time.