You Can't Improve Road House, Because Road House Is A Perfect Movie

"Dalton's the best bouncer in the business. His nights are filled with fast action, hot music, and beautiful women. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it." So says one of the taglines for "Road House," Rowdy Herrington's glorious 1989 punch-em-up in which Patrick Swayze is the world's best bouncer. He's so renowned for his ability to clean up dirty dives that people come from far and wide to recruit him. He's happy to take them up on the offer – for a hefty fee. Like a traveling gunslinger in a Western, Dalton blows into town and takes out the trash. Wherever he goes, he builds himself a small army of bouncers who are ready to become apostles to this messiah in tight jeans. "I want you to be nice," Dalton tells his followers. "Until it's time to not be nice."

Over the years, "Road House" has developed a reputation as a movie that's "so bad it's good." But I don't subscribe to that. No, I say "Road House" is so good it's great. Simply put, "Road House" is a perfect movie. Does that mean it's flawless? No. It means "Road House" is the perfect encapsulation of what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is a rough-n-ready tale of "fast action, hot music, and beautiful women." This isn't a movie, it's a time machine to another era. Coming at the tail-end of the 1980s, the decade itself has seeped into every frame of the film, like tobacco in the walls of the house of a lifelong smoker. Here is a film with its hair fluffed up huge and cocaine in its bloodstream. 

And now Hollywood wants to remake it. Word just broke that a "Road House" remake is in the works, with Doug Liman in talks to direct Jake Gyllenhaal. What a terrible idea. Look, I love Jake Gyllenhaal. I especially love that he's entered a part of his career where he seems to be constantly playing unhinged weirdos, and I'm sure he could bring something interesting to a "Road House" remake. But "Road House" is perfect as-is, and you can't improve on perfection, folks. What makes "Road House" so special is that it fits so perfectly into the era it was made. I'm not anti-remake by nature, but I imagine any sort of modern-day "Road House" is going to strive to be "gritty" and "grounded," and I can't think of anything more boring for material like this. 

But maybe you're not convinced. Maybe you don't understand why "Road House" is a perfect movie, to begin with. So let's break it down. 

What is Road House?

Directed by Rowdy Herrington and written by David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin, "Road House" follows Dalton (Patrick Swayze), the greatest bouncer to ever walk the earth. Dalton is skilled in the fine art of kicking some ass. But he only fights if he has to. His main goal is de-escalation. When a fight is in danger of breaking out in whatever establishment Dalton works at, he has three rules. "One, never underestimate your opponent," he says. "Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice." 

You see, Dalton isn't just some braindead hunk of muscle. No, no. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy (yes, really). He is a warrior-poet; a man who would rather read and perform some tai chi than smash some skulls. But the world is a mean place, and Dalton isn't going to take any guff. Because while "be nice" is his third rule, remember: you're only nice until it's time to not be nice. And then the punching starts. 

Dalton is hired by Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to come work at his bar, the Double Deuce, in Jasper, Missouri. The Double Deuce has become a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and Frank needs someone to take out the trash. So Dalton rolls into town and gets to work. And eventually, he manages to turn the Double Deuce into a reputable establishment. But he also makes a powerful enemy in the process. That would be Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), a wealthy, corrupt man who rules Jasper like a king. Everyone in town is afraid of him, but they can't stop him because he's so damn rich. To illustrate this, Brad is introduced by driving his convertible down a road and swerving in and out of lanes while singing to himself. You may think this is a needlessly risky way to drive, but Brad Wesley doesn't give a damn. He's untouchable! He also has an obscene trophy room full of approximately 10 billion taxidermied animals. Later, when Dalton confronts Brad Wesley in this room, Wesley says: "I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing missing is your ass!" That's right: Brad Wesley wants to mount Dalton's ass on his wall. 

Dalton also makes some friends, though. The respectable members of Jasper – the ones not working for Brad Wesley – all seem to like him. That includes the local doctor, Dr. Elizabeth "Doc" Clay, played by Kelly Lynch. She's a doctor who is also a lady! She's also a total babe, but she wears big glasses – so everyone knows she's both pretty and smart. Dalton and Doc meet after Doc has to patch Dalton up after a brawl, and soon enough, the two of them are getting hot and heavy in the barn loft where Dalton resides. 

Soon, Dalton's old buddy Wade comes to town to help out, too. Wade is played by Sam Elliott, who has never looked more attractive than he does here. Just a total smokeshow, yowza. He out-hots both Patrick Swayze and Kelly Lynch here, and that's no easy feat. Anyway, Wade eventually gets killed by Brad Wesley's men, so Dalton needs revenge. A big showdown ensues, and it ends with Brad Wesley dead. Have fun down in hell, Brad! 

Now, take a look at all of that, and try to imagine the same movie being made today. You can't, can you? Instead, imagine how dull and lifeless a modern-day "Road House" would be. Imagine how all the color will be desaturated to give the film the ugly tint most modern flicks have. Imagine how they'll probably get rid of the whole "bouncer with a Ph.D. in philosophy" angle, worried that it sounds "too silly." Imagine how Sam Elliott won't show up looking hot as hell. Imagine how boring it will all be.

Some Things That Happen In Road House

The following is but a mere taste of the full-course meal of madness that resides within the frames of "Road House." 

  • Dalton once killed a man by ripping his throat out with his bare hands, and it haunts him to this day!
  • Brad Wesley owns a monster truck and he uses it to ruin the businesses of his competitors. 
  • Dalton says the following while he's being stitched up by Doc: "Pain don't hurt." Try to make sense of that. Go ahead. 
  • Dalton knocks a gigantic taxidermied polar bear onto one of Brad Wesley's goons in the final fight (the goon lives, though, sadly). 
  • There are a lot of homoerotic moments. One of Brad Wesley's henchmen even utters this line while fighting Dalton: "I used to f*** guys like you in prison!" Wow!
  • Despite his regret at ripping out a throat once before, Dalton ends up ripping that "f*** guys like you in prison!" henchman's throat out during a big fight. Dalton also goes through that entire fight shirtless, because of course he does. 
  • The town gets so damn sick of Brad Wesley and his crap that the local businessmen all band together and straight-up murder him. That's right, these townsfolk gather around Brad Wesley and shoot him to death. There are numerous witnesses, and yet, the killers get away with it. As wild as this sounds, it has some basis in reality! In 1981, a man named Ken McElroy was murdered in front of between 40-60 witnesses, and yet no one was ever convicted of the crime. Why? Because Ken McElroy was such a bad dude – "accused of dozens of felonies, including assault, child molestation, statutory rape, arson, animal cruelty, hog and cattle rustling, and burglary" – that everyone was apparently happy to see him gone. Whether or not this real-life murder inspired the ending of "Road House" is up for debate. 

How Do You Remake Road House?

How do you remake "Road House"? The short answer is: you don't. Or at least, you shouldn't. But MGM, who owns the property, is going to try anyway. Again: I like Jake Gyllenhaal. But I can't see him stepping into Patrick Swayze's cowboy boots. Swayze had a certain charm that's almost impossible to harness. Of course, I don't think Gyllenhaal would want to sign onto this and do a Swayze impression anyway. He'll likely bring his own spin to the part. But again: why? How can you even begin to try to recreate the magic of "Road House" in this day and age? And how can you think Doug Liman of all people is the one to do it? 

"Road House" needs a layer of sleaze. You need to practically smell the cheap beer wafting off the screen. You need to feel the cocaine rush. A modern-day "Road House" will nix all of this for something slick, and cold, and rather lifeless. You know it, and I know it. Remember when they tried to remake another Patrick Swayze classic, "Point Break"? I bet you don't because almost no one saw that remake. But it existed. And those who dared to watch it all agreed that it couldn't hold a candle to the original. 

To be fair, we've been here before. There was a previous "Road House" remake in the works that would have gender-flipped the lead, with MMA fighter-turned-actress Ronda Rousey in talks to star. But it sure looks like that version is dead now, and this latest attempt at a remake might eventually follow suit. But what if it happens? What if they really go ahead and remake "Road House"? I shudder at the thought. If I end up being wrong, and the remake happens and turns out okay, I will gladly eat my words. But I don't think I'll end up being wrong. I think "Road House" is a cinematic classic, and we should leave classics alone. They wouldn't remake "Citizen Kane." And they shouldn't remake "Road House," either.