Road House is not the Citizen Kane of bouncer movies. Citizen Kane is the Road House of newspaper movies. This is my third and possibly final column in the series I’m calling, “How The Eighties Convinced Men They Could Murder Their Way To A Bigger Cock, Inadvertently Causing All Of Our Problems Today” (1, 2) and let’s just say there’s a reason historians refer to the eighties as the Road House of decades.
Road House, for those of you who’ve never seen it and thus have a hole in your personality in the exact shape of the movie Road House, is the 1989 Patrick Swayze action movie in which he plays a famous bouncer in a universe in which that is apparently a thing. It co-stars Sam Elliott, the Road House of actors, and takes place in Missouri, the 1989 of American states.
The plot isn’t particularly relevant to our discussion today; it’s a standard Western, adapted for the era by upgrading the Stetsons to porntacular feathered mullets …
… and instead of beauty shots of frontier vistas, we get lingering close-ups of Patrick Swayze’s nude ass. Swayze’s bouncer character, James Dalton, rides in to clean up a bar in a small town that is living under the thumb of a sadistic tycoon. Before it’s over, there will be two massive explosions, a monster truck rampage and Dalton will have murdered six men with his bare hands.
“But what does this have to do with the American male’s chronic dong insecurity, aside from literally everything you just described?” Here’s where you have to understand the Swayze-specific context for this film: he was coming off a starring role in Dirty Dancing, an international sensation so popular with women that writers kept referring to it as “the Star Wars for girls,” because that phrase didn’t used to bury an author under an avalanche of death threats from anime avatars.
This, of course, was a problem for any actor with action star aspirations. A guy like that needs male asses in the seats and no insecure teenage boy would be caught dead watching something as gay as a movie about a man who has sex with women but also dances. So, Patrick Swayze teamed up with a director named, no shit, Rowdy Herrington to reclaim his masculinity with a film that would launch with the tagline, “The dancing’s over. Now it gets dirty.”
To achieve this mission, Road House masterfully executes a 7-point plan:
1. Establish That Dalton Has Reached The Apex Of The World’s Most Heterosexual Profession.
Road House literally opens with the title superimposed on a woman’s ass:
One minute later, we get a close-up of some titties, just to drive the point home. “This one’s got plenty of spank fuel for you and your girl! Hell, there’s even a little something for Mom later.”
We’re in a huge, upscale bar where our hero works as the lead bouncer. The first trouble Dalton witnesses — and see if you can detect the subtle symbolism here — is an unruly patron suddenly kicking a woman in the vagina:
The vulva-punter then pulls a knife on Dalton. He, like everyone in this universe, knows Dalton by name and reputation (“I’ve always wanted to try you! I think I can take you, Dalton!”). But Dalton only smirks and walks away, knowing he’s thrashed bigger men than this on his way to thrash some even bigger man.
Dalton sustains a knife wound in the encounter, so he retires shirtlessly to the restroom to sew himself up. Note: We are still in the opening credit sequence.
He is soon interrupted by a man in a suit who says he owns a bar in Missouri that is just lousy with brawling thugs. He wants Dalton to come clean the place up, because he’s the best bouncer in the world. Dalton says that another bouncer, Wade Garrett, is the best, but the man wants Dalton and will pay any price.
“Five thousand up front,” says Dalton, “five hundred a night, cash, you pay all medical expenses.” I did the math and this is the 2020 equivalent of $400K a year. Just to drive the point home, we see Dalton take off toward Missouri in a brand new Mercedes 560SEC, the shirtless Patrick Swayze of cars.
2. Make It Clear That Dalton’s Badassery Has Somehow Earned Him Nationwide Fame.
Dalton arrives at the bar, the Double Deuce, and within seconds a waitress starts hitting on him:
If you need anything — anything — you just let me know.
DALTON smirks and turns away, knowing he’s fucked hotter women than this on his way to fuck some even hotter woman.
You got a name?
Well, what is it?
(Spins on her in dramatic fashion)
The WAITRESS GASPS IN SHOCK, then GIGGLES.
Oh my god! Shit! I’ve heard of you!
Keep in mind, there were almost certainly bars in 1989 Missouri where the actual actor Patrick Swayze could still go totally unrecognized. But James Dalton, who works as a bouncer 1,200 miles away, is so well-known that he doesn’t even have to give a first name. Two minutes later, we see the waitress say to a fellow employee, “You know who that is? Dalton.” In response, the man’s head snaps around like he’s been told that his absent father is at the door and that it’s David Lee Roth.
He then goes to another employee and says, “The guy at the end of the bar is fuckin’ Dalton, man.” Yet another employee, when face-to-face with Dalton says, “I heard you had balls big enough to come in a dump truck.” This is a universe in which children dress as Dalton the Bouncer for Halloween.
3. Hammer Home The Fact That Everyone Is Desperate To Fuck Dalton … But He’s Saving Himself For That Special Someone.
Soon after this, the Waitress invites herself into Dalton’s barnyard apartment early in the morning, to find him sleeping fully nude. He stands up:
And she orgasms in her pants:
He still shows no interest in her, because cold indifference was the most sexually desirable trait in the 1980s male.
Later, when Dalton endures yet another stab wound, he is tended to by the hospital’s sexiest blonde doctor. He refuses anesthetic (“Do you enjoy pain?” she asks, to which he replies, “Pain don’t hurt”). He then reveals that, despite what he just said, he has a degree from NYU in philosophy. This bouncer then invites the doctor to come visit him at his bar that night. She readily agrees, not because class differences don’t exist in Road House, but because this is a universe in which any doctor would be flattered to be seen with a prestigious bouncer like Dalton.
That night at the bar, a different blonde walks up to Dalton and says, “What do you say we go back to my place and fuck?” Again he responds with smirking indifference. It will turn out that she is the girlfriend of the tycoon antagonist, Brad Wesley. She is roughly hustled away by Jimmy, a Wesley henchman who Dalton will murder later. Dalton then walks outside to find the sexy doctor waiting for him. “Looking for someone?” he asks coldly, even though he literally invited her. “You,” she coos. He silently deems her worthy of penetration.
Oh, and it turns out that the sexy doctor is the villain’s ex-girlfriend. Indeed, women are but the proverbial battlefield upon which the men proverbially joust with their literal boners.
4. Give Dalton A Tough, Manly Friend With Cool War Stories.
Wade Garrett, the Jordan to Dalton’s Lebron, shows up to help. Did you ever have that one Halloween where you were the only one who turned up to the event in costume? Well, Sam Elliott is the only guy here who showed up looking like he actually works in a dive bar.
Also, after Road House, his next appearance was in the masturbation fantasies of millions of middle-aged housewives. Garrett gets a compressed version of Dalton’s introduction: First, the other workers in the bar express awe (“Holy shit, that’s Wade Garrett!”) and then he immediately confronts a giant, hostile man. This exchange ensues and, again, I’ll leave it to you to parse the symbolism:
GIANT HOSTILE MAN
You wanna fight, dickless?
Well I sure ain’t gonna show you my dick.
He then punches the giant man RIGHT IN THE COCK.
He later joins Dalton and the sexy doctor on a date. The two bouncers share stories about brutalizing drunks, to the delight of this physician who can only fantasize about achieving similar heights in her own field. Wade offers to show off one of his scars. Here we see Elliott is again dedicated to authenticity in a way that the rest of the film is not. “I’m a bouncer?” he presumably said to director Rowdy, “so when I’m not at work, I’m drunk and showing my pubes in a family restaurant, right?”
The sexy doctor sees the scar, grins and inexplicably says, “A Woman?” to which Wade replies, “Boy, was she.” No further explanation is requested or given.
5. Give Dalton A Dark, Mysterious Past Full Of Fucking And Killing.
By the 1980s it was understood that real men are brooding and haunted, because smiling is apparently also gay. It’s thus revealed that Dalton has a dark backstory: He killed a man in Memphis by ripping his throat out with his bare hands, but got off on self-defense grounds. What could drive Dalton to do such a thing? Garrett, in an effort to reassure Dalton, says,
“You know that fucking cun- that girl, never told you she was married, did she? And when a man sticks a gun in your face, you got two choices: You can die, or you can kill the motherfucker.”
Here we learn that the fact that every woman wants to fuck Dalton is his burden and his curse, especially since it often intersects with him being nature’s ultimate killing machine. Side note: Let’s have a round of applause for the defense attorney who sold the jury on throat-ripping as an act of self-defense.
To further hammer home the fact that no man can escape the long shadow of his past, the heroic Dalton rents an apartment next door to the villain’s mansion, then proceeds to pork the villain’s ex-girlfriend on the roof while he watches from his porch.
When you’re Dalton, this exact situation is literally unavoidable.
6. Create A World In Which It’s Impossible To Distinguish Sincerity From Winking Innuendo.
At one point, Wesley enters the bar and says to the band, “Fellas, play something with balls.”
On another occasion, he taunts Dalton with, “I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing missing is your ass.”
Near the climax, Dalton has a shirtless battle to the death with the main henchman, Jimmy, who snarls, “I used to fuck guys like you in prison!”
It turns out, by the way, that this is Dalton’s trigger phrase. He flies into a berserker rage, first by kicking the man’s testicles so hard that somewhere in the future his terrified offspring started fading from reality…
…and then ripping out his filthy, blasphemous voice box with his bare hands.
7. Demonstrate That A Man Can, In Fact, Murder His Way To A Better Life For His Penis.
As I mentioned, Dalton kills five more people (most with his bare hands, one gets a knife) and is an accomplice in the murder of a sixth when the villain Wesley succumbs to his one weakness: four point-blank shotgun blasts to the torso.
The shotgunning is done by the oppressed townsfolk and no one suffers any consequences for this whatsoever, so it’s not totally clear why they needed Dalton at all. Nonetheless, Dalton earns the love of the sexy doctor and in the final scene, he frolics nude with her at the lake. Because Dalton can only get hard when a lesser male is observing in sexually frustrated silence, they force Cody, their blind musician friend, to listen from the shore.
The film is not subtle about its lesson: Bouncers don’t just protect bars, they protect the world. Society needs more bouncers, and men who think like bouncers. It is our duty to make sure they’re lavishly rewarded. “
And I suppose Swayze’s Dirty Dancing to Road House pivot somehow encapsulates America’s decades-long masculinity crisis,” you say, since you’re now familiar with my only column template. It sure as fuck does! But understanding the hilarious tragedy of it requires even more context. You see, from the 1930s to the 1950s, like half the movies made in Hollywood looked like this:
And the posters looked like this:
Those lavish song-and-dance epics were enjoyed by millions of heterosexual males, men who’d survived mustard gas and a great depression, men who’s earliest childhood memory was seeing a fieldhand get torn apart in a thresher accident. On Movie Night, those men were equally happy to watch John Wayne shooting cattle rustlers or Fred Astaire gliding across a ballroom.
This is because it is objectively enjoyable to watch skilled dancers do their thing. Dance turns up in every culture in every era going back to before humans were human. Freaking birds do it. It’s not a goddamned gender thing, you are hardwired by biology to enjoy choreographed, precise movement, vestiges of prehistoric rituals intended to prove to the rest of the tribe that you have the strength and coordination to fight, hunt and fuck with the best. But right around the rise of feminism, males decided that dancing was for girls and homosexuals.
“But if you claim we’re hardwired to enjoy dance, how could we so easily swear it off?” We didn’t, we just asked the performers to tweak the choreography ever so slightly so that the dancers would appear to be fighting.
That’s how elaborate fight choreography imported from Hong Kong cinema slid in to fill the void like James Dalton sliding into the woman of a rival male. Jackie Chan, the Jackie Chan of actors, didn’t learn to brutalize a roomful of opponents with a lawn chair by spending years in a secret school for warrior monks. He was trained in dance and acrobatics at the Peking Opera School alongside other fight movie legends like Sammo Hung. While Bruce Lee was mastering Wing Chun under Yip Man, he was also training to win the 1958 Hong Kong Cha-Cha Championship. This is because, and I think Lee himself would have told you this, being a good dancer makes women want to bang you.
So Dirty Dancing and Road House are, at heart, the same genre. The prep for both movies involved performers working with a choreographer to memorize moves in a way that would plausibly win the heart of a woman. It’s just that by the 1980s, males were making it a point to establish two things as loudly as possible:
A) Their manhood was the bedrock upon which their entire personality was built;
B) That manhood was so dainty and tenuous that if they stopped signaling it for even five minutes, it would shrivel up and go farting into the distance like a released balloon.
So, sure, their idols could dance now and then. But that dancing, along with all sorts of things they would otherwise enjoy, had to be slathered in layers of goofy and violent masculine posturing, like hiding a dog’s heartworm pill in a wad of cheese.
Of course, it’s 2020 and that all looks ridiculous now. Hollywood has taken a much more nuanced and mature approach to the subject, which is why in 2015 they announced a gender-flipped reboot of Road House starring Rhonda Rousey. It was quietly dropped the following year.
You can pre-order Jason “David Wong” Pargin’s book Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Bookshop or any place books like this are sold. You can also follow him on Twitter, his Instagram, or Facebook, or YouTube or Goodreads, or any of the many accounts he’s forgotten about.