Road House (1989) (part 2 of 15)
Late ’80s blues-rock plays behind the opening credits. Credits, which I should add, are bright pink. Thanks, movie. Way to bring the decade back to me, in brutal detail.
We learn it’s “A Silver Pictures Production” as the camera pans down a neon sign that shows the word “BANDSTAND” beside a piano keyboard. Yes, we’re at that famous club, the Bandstand. You’ve been there, right?
In the parking lot, a red Ferrari Testarossa pulls up, with its conspicuously retractable headlights. The driver’s door opens, and out steps a pair of black stilettos. Ferraris and stilettos: there’s no better way to set the mood for what we’re about to experience.
Never mind that the parking lot is strangely very damp, and never mind that there’s no possible way a woman could operate a motor vehicle with stilettos that thin. This is not the time or the place to wonder about such things. For the next 114 minutes, you are firmly strapped into Road House World. Keep your hands and arms inside of the ride at all times.
The woman heads toward the bar. The camera pans up her shapely legs to a shameless close-up of her ass, and here’s where the title of the movie appears. So very, very fitting. Yes, “Road House” is emblazoned across the ass of a woman wearing a garish yellow and black spandex mini dress, with a yellow flower pinned against her overly permed and crimped hair. She will never be seen again, meaning that her only purpose was to set the stage. To plant the seeds. Joel Silver, pink credits, neon, bad perms, and tube dresses. It’s like a tone poem of late ’80s cheese.
A limo is parked at the entrance of the Bandstand. Before you get impressed, I should note it has “Airport Limo Service” emblazoned across the side. Because nothing says “class” like renting a limo at the airport.
The driver opens the door to let out one passenger: a man with gray hair, in a matching gray suit, with the obligatory bolo tie. Would it really be 1989 without the bolo ties? Despite the fact that the man is clearly pushing fifty, he hands his ID to the bouncer at the door.
Inside the Bandstand, it’s a late ’80s, bluesy, rocking free-for-all. Yuppies in blazers and sweaters, and guys in wife beater undershirts dance side-by-side. Ah, finally. A place where prepsters and white trash can rub elbows. A blues-rock utopia, if you will. Actually, now that I see the clientele, perhaps renting your own limo at the airport makes you too good for this place.
Up on stage, a long haired singer wears a guitar, and a poofy shirt. The band performing is the Cruzados, which had already broken up by the time the movie came out. The guy singing would eventually form Tito & Tarantula, the band that performs while Salma Hayek writhes around with an albino python in From Dusk Till Dawn.
There’s a close-up on the singer, just as he wheezes out the line, “If you love me, buy me a big TV!” Well, here’s a ViewMaster. Does that give you any indication of how I feel about you? His long haired bandmates, including the one guy in the obligatory Stevie Ray Vaughn hat, all rock out around him. (These are actually called “gaucho hats”—I learned that at the hat convention back in July—but I think I’ll continue to refer to them as Stevie Ray Vaughn hats.)
Gray Suit Guy enters the club and passes the bar. Extreme close-ups reveal what he sees: bartenders bartending, shots being poured, a cash register, er… registering. He straightens his bolo tie and steps into the sea of yuppiedom.
The camera pans across a woman’s exposed cleavage, pretty much her whole entire rack, as someone lights her cigarette. A yuppie throws his American Express Gold Card down on a waitress’ tray. He somewhat nonsensically says, “How about some gold plastic?” How about some, then? Somewhere else, a waitress pulls out a billfold and tosses out hundred dollar bills. See, it’s like little images. Small pictures flying in from other worlds. Worlds populated mostly by coke fiends.
And then, suddenly, there he is, standing in front of the bar, nodding along to the Cruzados beat. His mullet is indeed mighty, and it forms a silhouette not unlike the head of the proud American bald eagle. It is the man of the year, of the century, perhaps even the millennium. Men want to be him, women just want him. It is he, and only he, that may be called The Swayze.
Swayze’s keen ear immediately detects the sound of glass breaking somewhere off-screen. In the periphery of his vision, an argument is erupting. Two men and two women are sitting at a table, and one woman yells, “Asshole! What do you take me for?”
One man already has his snarky reply ready. “For about a hundred bucks!” But that’s no hollow zinger: He actually lays a hundred dollar bill on the table. So, I guess Benjamins are in abundance here at the Bandstand.
The woman, none too pleased by this crass proposition, buries her nail file into the bill, and also into the table. And here comes Continuity! Moment #1, where her hand, wrapped tightly around the nail file, completely vanishes in the next shot.
But Mr. $100 Bill won’t take this kind of insult lying down. He lunges out with his foot, and this part is very hard to figure out, even playing it frame by frame, but what I think happens is he actually kicks the woman in the crotch [!] and sends her tumbling to the floor. Cut to Patrick Swayze, looking perturbed. He sees and knows all. Whenever there’s a foot in someone’s groin, The Swayze is there.
Several bouncers are already on the scene (we know they’re bouncers because of their customary black t-shirts). Alas, Mr. $100 Bill and his friend aren’t about to go gently into the night. They take swings at the bouncers. A few of the punches connect, and it appears things are teetering on the brink of an all-out bar brawl.
But just then, the Zen-like, calming presence of Patrick Swayze appears over the scene. He says, “I think it’s time for you gentleman to leave,” and suddenly, all is right with the world. Mr. $100 Bill, currently in a headlock, isn’t in a terrific bargaining position in the first place, so he apologizes and agrees to behave. Wow, asking nicely. Who knew that’s all it took to maintain control over belligerent drunks?
Swayze gives a quick nod to his fellow bouncers. They, too, have been calmed by Swayze’s presence. Too calm, in fact, because they’ve been lulled into a false sense of security. They let the guy go, which allows the troublemaker to grab the well-established nail file, run up to Swayze from behind, and stab him in the shoulder. Damn you, Swayze, for lulling us!
Swayze barely reacts to this, even though a pretty large wound has now opened up in his shoulder. The other bouncers grab the guy and hold him in check, and Swayze calmly turns around.
For some unknown reason, the guy’s rage is directed specifically at Swayze:
If a man has ever written his own epitaph, this would be it. Swayze, or as we now know him, “Dalton”, simply asks the guy to step outside with him.
Once they reach the door, two things happen. First of all, I notice that along with his blue polo shirt, Dalton is also wearing screaming white pants. And once again, thanks for taking me back in time, movie. But see, this is how we know Dalton’s a true badass. No simple punk bouncer could pull off wearing white pants like this. Especially after Labor Day.
The next thing that happens is Mr. $100 Bill, and Friend of Mr. $100 Bill, begin egging on Dalton to come and fight them. Dalton simply smirks, turns his back on them, and walks inside. Not even their jeers of “dirtball”, “dickhead”, and my personal favorite, “moose lips” [!] can goad Dalton into a fight.
As Dalton heads back inside, his many minions, the black-shirted bouncers, close the gap behind him. The two roustabouts refer to the bouncers as the “seven dwarves”, even though there are six of them. No wonder they’re hooligans! They never learned to count!
And so ends the Sad Vignette of Mr. $100 Bill and his friend, never to be seen again. They served their purpose, which was to give us a vivid depiction of how effectively Dalton can cool a couple of jerks. Even implying he has the lips of moose can’t blow his cool.
Back inside the club, Dalton walks right past Gray Suit Guy from the Airport Limo, who turns to watch him in wonder. And then the entire gathered crowd is back to clapping along to the Cruzados, who have continued their song uninterrupted this entire time.
Cut to a sink, and a black leather case laid open, and said case contains scalpels and about 19 different types of scissors. A bloody bandage is tossed down near the case, letting us know that it’s a makeshift medical kit. Can you guess who’s using it? Yes, Dalton is now busy stitching up his own wound [!], which he just got from that nail file. Is it clear yet that he’s supposed to be a badass? If not, I have a feeling that more evidence will be forthcoming.
Apparently, this is Dalton’s office, because it has huge windows overlooking the bar. You know, his bouncer office. Where he keeps all his bouncer-related paperwork and forms. The door opens, and in walks Gray Suit Guy, grinning and wanting to talk to Dalton. He even knows Dalton’s name is Dalton, but Dalton remains aloof.
Gray Suit Guy introduces himself as Frank Tilghman, and lays down his business card. He owns a club outside of Kansas City called the Double Deuce, and lo, will you come to respect that name, “Double Deuce”. Whether or not the Double Deuce is near Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas City, Kansas, we’ll never find out. But if we go strictly by the highway signs seen later, then it’s just outside of Kansas City, California.
Tilghman says the Double Deuce used to be a “sweet deal”, but now, “it’s the kind of place that they sweep up the eyeballs after closing.” Then he lays it out on the line. He’s come into some money, from somewhere (it’s never explained), and now he needs “somebody to help me clean the place up!” And he doesn’t just mean sweeping up the eyeballs, either. Don’t be silly; he already has a hunchback with a broom for that.
It seems Tilghman’s in the market for a “cooler”. And in the context of this film, a cooler is a meta-bouncer, if you will, the kind of person who makes sure everything in the bar goes down exactly the way he wants it. Tilghman is looking for a man who can turn back time and return the Double Deuce to its former days of Sweet Deal Glory. “I need the best,” he says.
Dalton immediately replies that “Wade Garrett” is “the best”, and you can surely file that name away in your Mental Rolodex for later. But Tilghman says Wade is “getting old”. Leaving himself open for innuendo, he says to Dalton, “I want you.”
By way of accepting, Dalton lays out his terms, which he already has in mind. He wants “5000 up front. 500 a night, cash. You pay all medical expenses.” Sounds like a bargain, seeing as how Dalton takes care of most of his own suturing. Dalton also wants to “run the show”, and when the job is done, he’s out.
Tilghman agrees to these terms. He must really have come into some money, if he can afford $500 a night on top of what he pays his other employees. Even if the Double Deuce is only open part of the week, that’s like ten grand a month. Shit, I got into the wrong career!
Tilghman even has Dalton’s plane ticket already in hand. This allows Dalton to deliver a line that’s supposed to define the very essence of his character, or be hilariously ironic, or something.
In walks a guy who seems to be the owner of the Bandstand, checking up on Dalton. Dalton breaks the news that he’s quitting, and the guy replies with a mildly sarcastic, “Great!” Kind of an underwhelming line delivery for a guy about to lose “the best”, wouldn’t you say? No two weeks’ notice? Darn it!
Tilghman smirks and heads for the door. But then he turns back to Dalton and, for the first time, a character utters this movie’s catch phrase. It makes absolutely no sense, so of course it’s the most repeated line of dialogue in the movie.
Dalton just shakes his head, and Tilghman walks out confidently.
And… what does that mean? Bigger than what? And why did he think Dalton would be bigger? And what did it accomplish to point that out as a parting shot? If this is a rip on Swayze’s height, it’s really not that hilarious, because the guy is 5’10”. Okay, he’s not NBA first round draft pick material, but he’s hardly in Michael J. Fox‘s realm. And for the record, Swayze is roughly the same height as Sylvester Stallone, who never got busted on for being short in any of his movies.
By the way, the actor playing Tilghman, Kevin Tighe, has a long and storied career. He’s had bit parts in dozens of films and movies, but is probably most famous for playing Desoto on the ’70s drama Emergency! (where he shared plenty of screen time with Timothy Donnelly as Fireman Chet). He also played an ancestor of Captain Janeway on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Nick’s dad on Freaks and Geeks, and most recently, John Locke’s dad on Lost. Wow, those are a lot of dads! (Okay, he wasn’t Janeway’s dad, but close enough.) So I hereby nominate him for the honorary title of America’s Dad.
Let’s hear it for America’s Dad, everybody: Kevin Tighe!
Oh, and Tighe also got his start in the anti-drug classroom short Narcotics: Pit of Despair, the kind of cheapo educational film where you’d think all copies would have dissolved into vinegar by now. But as it so happens, it’s currently available on DVD, as an extra on the Something Weird release of Blood Freak, also reviewed here. God, I love it when it all comes together.