Picks and Pans Review: Road House

UPDATED 05/29/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/29/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

Patrick Swayze, Ben Gazzara

Judging from this crude, head-bashing action flick, there's a national crisis in our local watering holes. Blood is flowing faster than beer at the drinking spots in our heartland.

Take the Double Deuce, a dance and degradation palace in rural Missouri that seems to be an entrepreneurial collaboration between Hank Williams Jr. and the Marquis de Sade. Into this honky-tonk hellhole, where broken bones are more common than broken glasses, arrives Dalton, the most ridiculous hero to swagger through a movie this summer. Played with enormous earnestness by Swayze in his Dirty Dancing encore, Dalton is the top bar bouncer in the business, which Road House seems to esteem as an occupation that could end world hunger, the national debt and varicose veins.

But Dalton is no mere vigilante of violence. He's got a degree in philosophy, a penchant for the martial arts and a spiritual side. Who would have thought that when Billy Jack came back, he'd be Patrick Swayze? As the mysterious stranger-savior who comes to town, Swayze is acting in a straitjacket. He can't display much of the street-corner sex appeal that distinguished Dirty Dancing, because he's not playing a character but a New Age force of nature. To maximize the violence, he repeatedly clashes with the local bigwig, Gazzara. Gazzara wants Dalton's head, and Dalton wants Gazzara's gal, a local blond bombshell physician, played by Kelly (Cocktail) Lynch as though she has studied Yvette Mimieux's every move.

Vulgarity isn't the movie's main vice. Hypocrisy is. Road House, directed by Rowdy (Jack's Back) Herrington, preaches nonviolence even as it practices ripping off heads and ripping out hearts—literally. This film doesn't even court its constituency with the style Sylvester Stallone serves up. And the screenplay by Hilary Henkin and David Lee Henry features spectacularly terrible dialogue. In a do-or-die combat between Swayze and Gazzara's head henchman, the bad guy pauses to tell Swayze, 'I used to—-guys like you in prison." Thanks for sharing.

Last year Cocktail, which chronicled bar life in the big city, proved the worst Hollywood movie of 1988. As its country cousin, Road House looks likely to continue that dishonorable tradition this year. Perhaps the bartenders of America should consider a class action suit. (R)

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