I have struggled for years now, off and on, to write the definitive apologia for the 1989 film Road House. My chief obstacle is not that doing so would be a waste of time — I’m very much aware that it is, and made peace with that some time ago— but that I am unable to precisely define what it is about the movie that works. At first glance, very little does.
The acting is wretched. There is not a single line, plot point, or dramatic beat that makes any sense, let alone that is recognizable as human behavior. The clash of dude-culture signifiers and throbbing female-gaze homoeroticism borders on emotionally confusing. Patrick Swayze’s character has a philosophy PhD but he never quotes a single philosopher. It is an attempted retelling of a small-town sexual predator’s vigilante murder that somehow arrived on a kung fu movie set among bouncers in Missouri.
However, as Roger Ebert said at the time, “This is not a good movie. But viewed in the right frame of mind, it is not a boring one, either.” Sure, it isn’t particularly realistic that a warlord maintains total control of a Midwestern town by running monster trucks over incorporated businesses within the FBI’s jurisdiction, but for some reason, none of that matters. The film is arguably the opposite of art but entertains the bejeezus out of me nonetheless, and I still delight in every inane non-sequitir even after a dozen viewings — pain hurts, like, definitionally.
Road House is an objectively terrible movie by any standard that Cahiers du Cinema would recognize, yet there is an indefinable excellence lurking in those shallow waters, something that was begotten and not made, as the people who made it evidently lack the talent to beget anything.
My point is not to defend the epic of Dalton, save to establish non-hater credibility for my larger contention: at the risk of contradicting Scorcese’s thesis of cinematic mana, the intention of a film does not trump the product. It doesn’t matter that a movie is incredibly stupid if it’s fun, just as a clever premise can’t redeem…