By Mike White
When I started watching this film I was completely thrown into a tizzy. I was so confused! I thought this had to be one of the strangest films in history until it finally dawned on me what was going on.
At first I thought that this film had gone outside of everything ever done before and was creating some sort of new genre and story-telling method but then my schooling finally kicked in and I realized exactly what type of film I was watching and that it conveniently fit into two of my favorite genres and blended them much the way only someone like Maurice Jarre did with his film RED SUN.
Neither Spaghetti Westerns nor Martial Arts films get much respect in film schools. Sure, one might watch Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI and Sturges' MAGNIFICENT SEVEN but it would be the rare film class indeed to have Kurosawa's YOJIMBO and Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS on the syllabus! They're just not considered as high culture as the "respectable" epics.
So that's probably why I haven't run across much discussion regarding the general similarity between the two genres: it would be considered slumming.
People still snicker when presented with a serious study of comedy and horror films, thinking that only westerns, film noir, and Bergman deserve attention. Ha! Just because the French latched onto a few directors and American theorists go ga-ga over overt symbolism doesn't mean that we can't look at every film with a critical eye.
The reason why I was so confused watching Rowdy Herrington's ROAD HOUSE is that it is a modern spaghetti western/kung-fu flick. The main character, Dalton (Patrick Swayze), is a "cooler" - the chief bouncer much like Andrew Clay's Brainsmasher character from BRAIN SMASHER; A LOVE STORY (see Cd #4 for review) - who comes to a new bar in Kansas city to clean it up and lay down the law.
Look out, kids, there's a new sheriff in town.
But, before there can be peace at the Double Douce, there is a town boss, Wesley, to take care of. Wesley has in his employ a bevy of goons including lead singer of X turned actor John Doe. In fact, Wesley really starts to take notice of Dalton (the man whose reputation proceeds him and name raises a lot of eye brows) when John Doe is fired from the Double Douce for skimming off of the register. It seems Doe is Wesley's nephew, even though this relationship is only mentioned in passing and is never explored in that "family loyalty" sort of cliche.
But, oh!, a lot of other cliche's are firmly in place but given a new twist with this unusual story idea.
Dalton is the king-fu master that walks into a spaghetti western town. He even has the deadly finishing move of ripping out a man's throat with his bare hands, kind of like the antagonist in THE FEARLESS HYENA. Dalton shows the people the error of their ways for bowing down to Wesley even though to mess with Wesley might mean an encounter with his boys or, worse still, a Monster Truck.
So we've got the Shoaling Priest up against the Town Boss. In comes Sam Elliot as Dalton's old and wizened (and wise-assayed) mentor who eventually gets bumped off (to employ the "Now It's Personal" clause) which leads to a moment not unlike that in THE CHINESE CONNECTION: "You killed sifoo! Why Why Why Why Why?!?"
No hero would be complete without a side-kick and in the true spaghetti western sense, a side-kick with a physical hand- cap is a bonus! So, enter Jeff Healey who not only fills that role but provides a soundtrack of bad cover songs.
The mini-climax of the film (where the protagonist takes on the antagonist's main henchman) is very similar to DIE HARD in more ways than one. It's hand to hand, takes a while, and has pretty much the exact same note to note score than to Michael Kamen who did the similar scores to both.
For some reason, Kelly Lynch was cast as the main love interest (who also happens to be a relative to the guy who finally takes a stand against Wesley). I don't know why Lynch keeps getting cast in mainstream films as a hattie since she's damn weird looking. The butch lesbian in THREE OF HEARTS, sure. The drugged out wife and ringleader of a group of pharmaceutical thieves in DRUGSTORE COWBOY, certainly. But as a sex goddess I think she's out of her league. I know that may sound mean, but what I think is even meaner is that it appears someone in Hollywood agrees with me and when she is the "hot" love interest she is usually given a substantial education to explain away her frumpishness as she was in ROAD HOUSE (a doctor) as well as VIRTUOSITY (a doctor). At least she doesn't wear any pantsuits in ROAD HOUSE.
So why watch a film when you know pretty much exactly what's going to happen? Geesh! You might as well be asking "Why go the the movies at all?" Sometimes I just go to watch different elements being plugged into the same tired generic formulas, hoping that they'll be given a little twist (and of course there are times when they are given a big twist or not used at all -I'm not that fucking cynical!). And here's ROAD HOUSE which does both - plugs some new elements into some old formulas and gives them a little twist. Not to say that Rowdy "STRIKING DISTANCE" Herrington is a cinematic genius but I will say that ROAD HOUSE is a very fun watch and is highly recommended by everyone on staff.