Mar 1, 2018
Road House (1989) (part 3 of 15)
On a squalid back street somewhere, a real beater of a car pulls up to a parking garage. Dalton gets out, showing that (gurk) he also owns a white silk blazer to match the pants. And yet, the worst examples of his fashion sense are yet to come, folks.
He tosses his keys to a random old black guy sitting on the sidewalk. The man is outraged, and in Wolfman Jack’s voice yells, “What do I look like, a valet?” How dare you, sir? How dare you mistake me, a guy with nothing better to do than sit on the sidewalk in the middle of the night, for a lowly valet?
But there’s no racial stereotyping going on here. Dalton tells the man, “Keep it. It’s yours.” The man looks at the keys, and with a brief grunt heads over to his new ride. And we all know you don’t need anything else to assume ownership of a car, like, say, the car’s title or any other sort of paperwork. That’s Dalton for you; He just passes along his worldly possessions like it’s his katra.
(And the guy who assumes ownership of the car-tra is Chino “Fats” Williams, who also shows up in a bit part as motel manager in Action Jackson, another Joel Silver production.)
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Inside the parking garage, Dalton takes the cover off a steel blue Mercedes Benz with New York license plates. The movie never makes it clear, but this is his real car, and when he’s working as a bouncer he prefers to drive a beater. There’s a reason for this, and it’s another one of the movie’s recurring “jokes”. It’s a very subtle joke, but a little later, I’ll explain it and spare you the hassle of figuring it out yourself.
Dalton takes a long moment to rev the engine of the Mercedes and turn on the lights. He pops in a cassette of generic blues-rock (because I’m sure he hasn’t heard any generic blues-rock in oh, about twenty minutes), and peels out.
Suddenly, we’re in a one-stoplight town, and a bright neon “Welcome to Jasper” sign glows at the top of the screen. Blues-rock goes chunk-a chunk-a as Dalton drives through town, surveying his surroundings. Oddly, the same blues-rock song is still playing. So, I’m guessing Dalton’s new job is less than five minutes from his old one. Either that, or he wore the hell out of that cassette on the drive down.
By the way, this sign does allow me to pinpoint the exact location of the story, because there really is a Jasper, Missouri. It’s about 130 miles south of Kansas City, so saying it’s “outside Kansas City” is sort of a stretch, but there you have it.
Finally, Dalton does a double take when he sees it: A dirty, faded sign that says “Double Deuce”. he pulls into the parking lot and steps out. The resident scumbags out front are already hooting about the Mercedes and calling him “hotshot”, and yelling about how he should be driving a “Detroit” car.
Dalton walks past them, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. He doesn’t get far when the doors to the bar burst open. An oily, goateed, curly-headed bouncer tosses out a guy in a mesh cap. The bouncer angrily yells, “Don’t come back, peckerhead!” Wow, “peckerhead”. That’s way harsher than “moose lips”. Are you already getting a sense of how rough and tumble the Double Deuce is supposed to be?
Dalton heads inside, and there’s a blues-rock band performing, and they’re playing the exact same song that was on Dalton’s cassette! Okay, Rowdy. I’m hip to your tricks.
Here comes more evidence of how the Double Deuce is one big dive, because the band is playing behind chicken wire. Bar patrons hurl both crude insults and beer bottles at the band. Dalton grins when he sees the youngish, blonde, sweaty singer. The guy also happens to be playing blues guitar sitting down, with his axe across his lap. That’s because the guitarist is blind virtuoso Jeff Healey, who was relatively famous back then. This was thanks to the huge revival of blues-rock that was going on at the time, particularly with artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and (to a lesser extent) the Black Crowes. Thankfully, that revival didn’t last long, because honestly I can only take so much blues-rock in one sitting.
(According to Rowdy Herrington’s commentary, the original script featured a character who was only supposed to be very similar to Jeff Healey. But when it came time to film the movie, the casting director was like, “Why don’t we just get Jeff Healey?” I mean, yeah, like Jeff Healey was too busy? What was he doing at the time, mapping the human genome or something?)
Dalton’s barely in the club for fifteen seconds when a fight breaks out near the pool tables. Two guys who appear to be extreme denim aficionados get into a scuffle, with one accusing the other of cheating.
Out among the tables, a bouncer tells another bouncer named Steve to check out what’s going on. But Steve is far too wrapped up in romancing a couple of chunky Midwestern ladies to get involved. “Fuck ’em,” Steve says, “they’re brothers!” Begging the question of why the first bouncer had to tell Steve about the fight, instead of just going over and breaking it up himself.
And then we get a closer look at Steve, with his sleeveless T-shirt, and his big underarm sweat stains, and his bad mullet (well, a bad mullet is sort of assumed in this movie. If a character is male and white, always mentally include the words “with a bad mullet” after the physical description). Steve makes his move on the less chunky of the girls with this winner of a line.
Steve: You know, I get off at two, and I’d just love to get you off about a half an hour after that!
Wow, thirty minutes? Steve must have been in the Air Force, because he sure does like to aim high. The woman, earning every penny of her scale wage for this non-speaking role, looks overjoyed at the prospect of thirty whole minutes of hot Steve lovin’.
Dalton overhears this, but just smirks and shakes his head and continues on, appraising the unruly crowd. He sees them all, knows them all, breathes them in. The drunk lowlifes, the manhandled waitresses, the tired and the wretched, yearning to be shirtless.
He takes a prime vantage point by the bar, and sees a waitress talking to two skanks with big ’80s hair. She yells at the skanks not to hand her money out here, in the open, and instead has them follow her to the bathroom. So, I’m pretty sure she’s not selling Mary Kay.
And then the Jeff Healey Band finishes up their number. The crowd applauds lightly. Cut to three slutty chicks sitting at a table. The sluttiest of the three—but it’s a tough call—gets up. She’s a bottle bleach blonde, almost to the point of actually having white hair, and she’s wearing a ton of hairspray, along with a white tube dress, which has these cutouts on each side, making it look like there are two ladders leading up to her armpits.
She brings her helmet of platinum hair over to the bar to order a “vodka rocks”, all the while looking Dalton up and down. At one point, she’s pretty obviously staring at his bulge. And who can blame her? (And while not qualifying for Repeat Offender-dom, I should mention this actress, Julie Michaels, was Pamela Anderson’s stunt double in Barb Wire. She may have reused the same wig.)
While she’s waiting for her vodka rocks (which I’m assuming is similar to vodka on the rocks), one boorish patron with a slight resemblance to a puffy Jon Cryer comes up. He offers this endearing pickup line.
Puffy Jon Cryer: Hey, Vodka Rocks! What do you say you and me get nipple to nipple?
As awful and nonsensical as that line is, her response is even stranger.
Platinum Blondie: I can do that without you.
I really have no idea what all that was about. And they’re both horrible actors, making the conversation all the more inscrutable.
Platinum Blondie gives Dalton one last lookie-loo and walks away. But a disgruntled Jon Cryer grabs her by the arm, so Curly Haired Goatee Bouncer springs into action. He punches Jon Cryer hard in the gut, and you’d think that would be enough to handle the situation, right?
Well, Curly Haired Bouncer takes things to another level, by flinging the guy across the room, where he knocks down a couple of tables and a few other customers. He orders the guy out, and that’s the end of that. He probably could have handled one puffy guy without injuring half a dozen bystanders, but such is life at the Double Deuce.
Curly Haired Bouncer then gives Dalton the evil eye, and yells at him for not buying a drink, and stalks off. A waitress, however, eases Dalton’s mind.
Waitress: Don’t let him bother you! Morgan was born an asshole and just grew bigger!
And so the guy’s name is Morgan, and with his curly hair and goatee, I think it’s all too fitting that I should call him “Captain Morgan” from here on out. And for you wrestling fans, Captain Morgan is being played by former NWA champion Terry Funk. I would say more about him, but I know absolutely nothing about professional wrestling, and I’m quite happy to remain ignorant.
The waitress, a dark-haired woman with a Prince Valiant haircut, loudly introduces herself as Carrie-Ann. And you know that thing I said earlier about adding the phrase “with a bad mullet” to the description of any male character? Well, it seems you can apply that to the female characters as well. Poor Carrie-Ann has Moe-like bangs, and that sort of mousy plainness that makes her a natural for TV roles. Kathleen Wilhoite was also Chloe in the early days of ER, and more recently had a recurring role as “Liz Danes” on Gilmore Girls. (I’m also quite happy to remain ignorant about Gilmore Girls.)
When Carrie-Ann finds out Dalton is Dalton, she’s beside herself. But the bartender, a guy with about a pound of grease in his hair, yells at her to get back to work. And the actor playing the bartender is also a person of note. He’s John Doe (which I’m so sure is his real name), and before he got into acting, he was with the punk band X. So this movie has, like, an all-star white trash cast!
And then Tilghman, America’s Official Dad, steps into the bar. He’s already in clean-up mode, as evidenced by the small actions he does around the place to set things right. It’s the little things that mean a lot, you see. First, he puts a payphone receiver right side up. Ah, now the place is beautiful.
Then he sees a bit of scandalous graffiti on the wall, which leads into one of the stranger moments in the film.
The graffiti provides a number that one can call, shall we say, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. For great unlawful carnal knowledge, even.
Tilghman has a Sharpie at the ready, and a plan to make this less unseemly: He writes over the “F” in FUCK, changing it to a “B”, then he adds an “I”, complete with a dot on it, changing the message to “For a great Buick call 555-7617″. And just like that, the screencap below is now completely family-friendly!
I mean, never mind all the sketches nearby, which include a woman’s private parts with the inscription “Hairpie”, and someone bending over to show his anus. Those don’t seem to bother Tilghman in the slightest. In his mind, he’s cleaning up the bar. And he’s even cleaning up the town, when you think about it, because when that young woman gets a strange, drunken call at 2AM asking for a great Buick, her sensibilities will be far less offended.