Saturday, July 12, 2008

Road House Rules

Twelve ways Patrick Swayze and his mullet will change your life.

I’m on the couch flipping channels. Not looking for much, just something to watch. The Bachelorette? Uh, no. According to Jim? Double no. Law and Order? No, three channels in a row. Then, a smile breaks out on my face as Patrick Swayze comes into frame on the next channel – probably TNT – and slams some poor dude’s head through a table top.

Awesome. It’s Road House. I throw the remote aside; it’s useless to me now.

A couple of quick facts. FACT #1: There are literally thousands of people who say that Road House is a bad movie and has nothing substantial to offer.

FACT #2: These people are spectacularly wrong.

FACT #3: Road House is one of the greatest films ever made.

FACT #4: Road House may very well be the only self-help guide you’ll ever need.

Like it or not, these are the facts. And yes, I’ve heard all the arguments. “You can’t be serious,” the elitist cineaste might say over a hot cup of Earl Grey. “For example, the English Patient and Atonement are great films. So too, are The Last Emperor, Sense and Sensibility and A Room With A View. Road House is simply not in the same league.” To which I say, “Thank God for that.”

Those aren’t great movies. Not even close. They might be important, I’ll give you that. But to me, great movies aren’t important, they’re visceral, fun and endlessly exciting. They stop you dead in your tracks. You could watch them on an endless loop and never get tired of them. You suffer through insanely long commercial breaks when they’re on cable because you have to watch it to the end, even though you’ve seen it twenty-eight times, and in spite of the fact that you own the DVD. I’m talking Die Hard. Caddyshack. Predator. The Bourne Identity. The Blues Brothers. Independence Day. These are great movies.

But Road House may just be the best of them all.

First, some background: the criminally underrated Swayze plays Dalton, the best bar bouncer in the whole wide world. In fact, he’s so good he transcended the traditional bouncer role somewhere along the way and moved up to “cooler” status. I’m not sure of the distinction, but rest assured — this means he’s completely badass. What’s more, he’s got a degree in philosophy from NYU, which one might assume is a feeble stab by the writers to intellectualize the guy, but that’s not it, exactly; there’s something deeper at work here. Plus, Sam Elliott’s along for the ride, and that’s always an excellent thing.

Using a plotline no more complicated than the average Western – loner comes to town, faces adversity, defeats bad guy in the end, in this case a nasty little piece of work named Brad Wesley – this morality tale goes the extra yard and packs more depth and insight than True Grit, Stagecoach and the entire run of Bonanza put together. More remarkable than that, though, is the stunning way in which it deconstructs the modern male psyche. This is a film literally riddled with timeless commentary about what it means to be a man. That would be enough for most movies, but not Road House. This is a film that raises the stakes and defines HOW to be a man.

What makes Road House unique is its multilayered approach to storytelling. If you want to watch it on a surface level for babes and pure ass-kicking entertainment, you absolutely can, no problem. But if you want to dig deeper, maybe learn a few things about the human condition? This is definitely the movie for you.

So herewith, distilled for easy consumption, the wisdom and philosophy of Road House, broken down for the betterment of man by yours truly.

1. What’s at stake? Your very soul. The playing field is established early on when the owner of a rowdy, out-of-control bar named the Double Deuce hires Dalton to clean it up. Described as “the kind of place they sweep up the eyeballs after closing,” the Double Deuce clearly represents the damaged human soul – the devil’s playground, if you will – and the character of Dalton serves as the catalyst for a necessary change towards good. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the star of the 1970s hit TV show Emergency! plays the owner, which makes it all the more poignant, I think.

2. When faced with the unknown, do some recon. Dalton arrives unannounced at the Double Deuce, slipping in under the radar so he can scope out the scene and see what he’s up against. This is the classic teaching of preparedness. Naturally, it pays off – he spies the skanky waitress dealing drugs and John Doe from the seminal L.A. punk band X stealing money from the till. Smart play, Dalton. Even Confucius wasn’t this sly.

3. Recognize that opinions vary. This is the first existential salvo lobbed in the movie, and it’s a grenade-caliber doozy. When some oversized lug sizes him up with the words, “You don’t look like much to me,” our hero coolly replies, “Opinions vary.” Dalton doesn’t let such idiotic insolence get under his skin. And neither should you.

4. My way or the highway. Clich├ęs become weapons in Dalton’s hands, and this particular one is used to great effect when he lays down the rules to his new staff, which is, of course, all of the same guys from the old Double Deuce staff. Compare this tactic to the NFL: when a coach changes jobs, he usually brings in his own people so that he is instantly more comfortable. Dalton needs no such pampering; he is an unstoppable force of nature. To choose the highway is unthinkable, and you know it. You know it deep in your soul.

5. Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. If you think this is advice that applies only to bar fights, then you are a moron, because this is advice for LIFE. Someone bucking for the big promotion you’re after? Or maybe it’s the guy in the left lane who’s about to cut you off. Either way, be on your toes. But if you’re a husband, beware – marriage adds a whole new dimension to this timeless teaching. Hey, Dalton’s the best, but he can’t work miracles.

6. Some people are too stupid to have a good time. We’ve all been there. Some douche bag shows up at a party or a restaurant looking for trouble and tries to ruin things for everyone. Don’t be that guy. Because if you are – and Dalton’s anywhere around – your leg will be broken toot sweet and you will no longer be able to drive your monster truck over the local car dealership.

7. It’ll get worse before it gets better. If you make a break from the herd, there are going to be plenty of bulls trying to knock you down before you get to the fence. It’s human nature. They want you to stay so they can feel better about their dumb asses. But it’s not about them, it’s about you. Dalton knows this. So do what he does – man up. Don’t be afraid to stand alone against the Brad Wesleys of the world. Nothing worth having is free.

8. Pain don’t hurt. Strap yourself in, because we’re going deep on this one. Sure, we all know pain hurts, but that’s not what Dalton is talking about. He’s saying that real pain is when someone close to you dies or your best friend betrays you. Surface pain just doesn’t compare – plus, it can give you focus if you use it right. A gaping knife wound exposing most of your left rib cage? P’shaw! That ain’t nothin’. Bring on the staples. No anesthetic, please.

9. Nobody ever wins a fight. After a particularly rip-roaring dustup, Dalton drops another pearl: “Take the biggest guy in the world, shatter his knee and he’ll drop like a stone.” The message is clear – size doesn’t matter. Neither does your bar fight record. Consider Einstein. What if his bar fight record was 0-37? It wouldn’t change the fact that he was freakin’ Einstein. Fights don’t prove anything. Still, everything being equal, Dalton could have kicked Einstein’s ass. Just sayin’.

10. There’s no amount of money. Whatever your station in life, just make sure that this is what you say when the town bad guy asks you what it will take to get you to come work for him. This kind of act is called “principled” and will make you look like you have “integrity.” Chicks dig that. Mysteriously, you are not, however, required to do anything at all about the humongous shiner that the bad guy gave his “girlfriend.” Just look indignant, say “there’s no amount of money,” and walk out, because that is exactly what Dalton would do. Classy.

11. Be nice – until it’s time to not be nice. This may be Dalton’s finest moment. Like England Dan and John Ford Coley before him, he believes that love is the answer. And it is. We should all work for a better world of love and peace. Noted beanpole John Lennon would have been a hell of a bouncer in this world. I mean, can’t we all just get along? Sure we can. But there’s a problem – the world is full of Brad Wesleys, ready to take us past the breaking point. And when they do, nice gets thrown out the window, larynxes get ripped out of throats and polar bears fall on big fat people. In other words, it’s Charles Darwin all over, baby, only with better hair.

12. Accentuate the positive. Okay, put yourself in Dalton’s shoes. You killed a guy with your bare hands, which is exactly what happened in Memphis a couple years ago. Haunting. Next, your best friend is killed, so you kill four or five of Brad Wesley’s bodyguards in return. You almost killed Wesley himself, but held yourself back. Redemption. That’s a lot for anybody to handle. But you’re a philosophical man, so how exactly do you deal with so much violence, carnage and sorrow in the space of just one day? Easy – you go skinny-dipping with the hot town doctor. And you do it in the same place you ripped the bad guy’s throat out. That is cold blooded stuff right there. Dalton doesn’t dwell; that’s not his way. Move on, baby. Attack life. And get lucky.

Well, there you have it. As anyone with a brain can plainly see, Road House is more than the sum of its parts; it’s practically bursting at the seams with important, life-altering allegory. I’m sure there are people out there who still won’t be able to admit that they’re wrong, and they’ll continue to try and convince you that Road House sucks and is a bad movie. Obviously, in the words of Sam Elliott’s Wade Garrett, that dog won’t hunt. Don’t listen to these people. You know better. You’ve got truth and philosophy on your side. Remember – the naysaying will get worse before it gets better, and some people are just too stupid to have a good time.

So go. Spread the word – but be nice. The power of Swayze compels you.