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Road House

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Road House Movie Poster Image
Bouncer tames bar in '80s classic; sex, violence, drinking.
  • R
  • 1989
  • 114 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Nobody ever wins a fight. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dalton is a smart college graduate who beats up rowdy drunks for a living. He stays calm in difficult situations and never backs down in the face of violence.

Violence

The movie is a series of fight scenes staged between moments of dialogue, dancing, and sex. Men beat each other with bottles, sticks, fists, and spears. Men shoot each other. A home and a place of business are burned in arson fires. A monster truck drives through a car dealership and destroys a building and cars.  A man describes his bar as the kind of place where you have to "sweep up the eyeballs after closin'" every night. A man is stabbed to death. The knife is left in his chest, surrounded by blood. Someone slashes Dalton's tires and smashes his windshield nearly every night. A reference is made to rape in prison.

Sex

A man with his pants down has sex in a closet with a woman whose breasts are seen. Topless women are seen. A man and woman are seen nude from behind. A man tells another guy that for "twenty bucks," he can kiss his girlfriend's breasts. The man enthusiastically touches them, mostly covered, while explaining that he doesn't have twenty dollars. Graffiti on a bar wall says, "For a great f--k," call…" A woman does a striptease at a club for fun. Her breasts are seen. A man offers to get "nipple to nipple" with a woman.

 

Language

"F--k," "s--t," ass," "d--khead," "t-ts," "peckerhead," "bitch," "piss," "c--ksucker," "whore," "crap," "Christ," "faggot," "hell," and "prick."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol to excess. Someone deals drugs in a bar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Road House is a 1989 Patrick Swayze vehicle that shows off the actor-dancer's physical attributes and skills throughout a plot designed to provide maximum fight scenes within a fairly generic plot. The atmosphere is crude, vulgar, and violent. As a night club bouncer, he and the people he hangs out with are prone to brawls. Drunks start them and he ends them. Plus, a rich thug is shaking down every business in town and doesn't hesitate to use violence to keep everyone in line. Language includes "f--k," "s--t" and "c--ksucker," and adults smoke cigarettes, peddle drugs, drink to excess, have sex (breasts and butts are seen), and hit each other. A man tells another guy that for "twenty bucks," he can kiss his girlfriend's breasts.  A woman does a striptease. A man offers to get "nipple to nipple" with a woman. A man is stabbed to death. The knife is left in his chest, surrounded by blood.

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What's the story?

Patrick Swayze plays Dalton. In ROAD HOUSE, he's the chief bouncer at a busy night club, who also happens to have a college degree in philosophy. We know he's good at his job -- things are running smoothly, perhaps too smoothly for his sense of adventure. When offered a job to clean up a violent and chaotic Missouri bar, he says yes, jumps in his Mercedes, drives who knows how far, and takes on the challenge. The owner (Kevin Tighe) describes it as a place where they "sweep up the eyeballs after closin'" every night, and the reality doesn't disappoint. The band plays behind a chain link fence to avoid bottles flung by critical drunken customers. The bartender is stealing, other employees are dealing drugs, and one guy is letting other guys kiss his girlfriend's breasts for twenty dollars. (Ten per kiss, he calculates helpfully.) The room is filled with other model citizens -- drunken, shirtless, foul-mouthed jerks. In no time, Dalton has the place filled with men in shirts and ties and women in fancy dresses. What Dalton doesn't know is that the little town is under the thumb of Brad (Ben Gazzara), a sadistic mobster with a coterie of thugs eager to tear Dalton limb from limb. He won't allow anyone to sell liquor to Dalton's club. He sends guys in to start fights there. His men set fire to Dalton's landlord's home. After the movie's first major fight, Dalton, who usually stitches up his own wounds, ends up in the ER where he meets Doc (Kelly Lynch). Sparks fly and they are soon a couple, which makes Brad even angrier. In the middle of the chaos, Dalton's mentor and aging bouncer Wade (Sam Elliott) arrives to help out, but it doesn't end well for him. Brad's mob mixes it up with Dalton over and over until, in a climactic encounter, Dalton and Brad face off, with fists, knives, spears, and guns.

Is it any good?

Teens probably won't have much interest in this '80s cult classic. After a just a few minutes into Road House, as choreographed fights keep coming, and the conflicts between coarseness and refinement keep repeating, it feels as if the movie is a kind of deliberate in-joke shared by the filmmakers. They made a movie that is a succession of fight scenes, strung together, one after another, like flowers in a lei. A flimsy plot provides the string to hang the fights from. This minimizes the need for everything else in the film, including the relationship between the beautiful Kelly Lynch character and the beautiful Patrick Swayze character, and the friendship between the older bouncer portrayed by Sam Elliott and his protégé the younger bouncer.

But questions nag anyway: In what small town is a falling-down barn right next door to a sprawling mansion? What small town can support a night club the size of Disneyland, where hundreds of drinkers and dancers crowd the place every night? Nothing in this movie makes sense. Nevertheless, Lynch, Swayze, and Elliot are so watchable, so smooth and likable, that anyone old enough to handle the material who's looking for this kind of violent, sexually-charged, mindless entertainment probably won't be too terribly disappointed.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why someone with a degree in philosophy might be attracted to manhandling rowdy drunks for a living. Do you think the screenwriter made Dalton a college graduate to attempt to somehow elevate the character above the lowlifes he has to police in his job?

  • The fight choreography makes some of the fights seem almost dance-like. Do you think that makes the many fight scenes easier to watch for viewers who aren't necessarily fans of movie violence?

  • Road House remains a cult classic. Why do you think it's still popular?

Movie details

For kids who love classics

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