Rowdy Herrington’s “Road House” exists in that line of the late eighties and early nineties where honky tonk trailer trash chic was in vogue. This is the re-emergence of rowdy bars in that whole period of “Black Velvet,” “Black Betty,” Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Billy Ray Cyrus. It permeates with that exact odor but with Patrick Swayze playing basically your normal everyday enigmatic superhero known as Dalton. Only Dalton. He is so bad ass he has one name, carries a thick reputation, and spends his off time stitching his own wounds in bar room bathrooms.
He’s known as a “cooler,” a special level of bar room bouncers (?) who are called in to completely refurbish crappy bars and keep out all of the ruffians. Is there a school one can attend to become a cooler? Does one have to know martial arts? What form of Martial Arts does Dalton know? Why does he prefer to travel from town to town without laying down any kind of roots? Is Sam Elliot’s character some kind of “cooler” mentor or sensei? Is there a code of ethics or principles “coolers” must follow? Rowdy Herrington’s “Road House” is that kind of movie you just have to accept or else the particulars will drive you crazy.
Nothing really makes a lick of sense in the movie, but it does at least serve up some fun bare chested martial arts fights, and good old fashioned eighties homoerotica. Swayze in particular is very good in the role of Dalton whose reputation precedes him, leaving the man to challenge him at every turn and the women to swoon over him. When he’s called in by a bar owner to go to Jasper and straighten up his dive, Dalton is embroiled in a plot involving a local land baron who has a strangle hold over local businesses. He has a knack for pushing people out or blackmailing them, and those he can’t, he displays immense violence with his army of thugs. Dalton is pushed in to the turmoil, and faced with another equally skilled fighter named Jimmy.
Along for the ride is Sam Shephard as Wade who is quite memorable, and Kelly Lynch whose romantic sub-plot feels painfully tacked on. Lynch is a babe (I personally preferred Julie Michaels), but her role here is mostly an after thought as she spends most of her time chasing around Dalton who mourns more for Wade in the finale, than he does his potentially disastrous romance with her. “Road House” is fine. It’s certainly a silly action movie with a stunning lack of self awareness you’ll have fun with. It depends on your level of tolerance for stiff martial arts fights, endless blues tunes, and a rigid rule system for certain bars. Hey! You can fondle a bare chested woman with both hands, but don’t fight about it or you’re out on your ass!