Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cinemarked: Sam Elliott and Road House

After experiencing the random good times of The Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim, I couldn't help but think it was like a modern version of 1989 classic Road House. While I own the awesome flick on VHS, regular and special edition DVD, Netflix was there for me and has it streaming. The tale of one Dalton (Patrick Swayze), "the best damn cooler in the business", a philosophizing, karate fighting guy who cleans up ornery bars and makes a cool $500 a night with $5,000 up front. He's enlisted to clean up the Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri where blood and eyeballs are swept up every night. Training the staff to handle any situation without losing their cool, Dalton soon runs into Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), the local top dog and man in charge complete with army of monster truck driving, knife boot wearing, store terrorizing, former convict thugs. Outgunned, Dalton's long haired, gravelly voiced, chopper riding mentor Wade Garrett shows up to lend a helping and punching hand, played by mutha fudging Sam Elliott.

While Rowdy Herrington's Road House was a Patrick Swayze starring vehicle following the massive success of Dirty Dancing, Elliott's Garrett is just too Damme cool. The lanky and usually mustached actor has come to represent an iconic image of the American West thanks to roles in Tombstone, The Big Lebowski and a slew of TNT westerns; Elliott himself has stated numerous times that he's most recognized for Road House. And why shouldn't he be? He's awesome! From his mangy hair and scruff to his limp reflecting a wild life while being the voice of reason without preaching, Garrett is one of action cinemas most interesting characters. Garrett fills in some of Dalton's back story, (he'd fallen in love with a married woman who didn't mention a husband, a husband who put a gun in Dalton's face then got his throat ripped out) and encourages Dalton to leave town because he doesn't want to see his little brother/son/friend get hurt or killed. Elliott gives David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin's script a cool and easy going gravitas, making lines like "cut it the fuck loose" and "I ain't gonna show you my dick" into memorable exchanges 20 some years later while giving each confrontational scene a light hearted segue because he wants a beer.

Fight choreographer Benny "The Jet" Urquidez studied each actor's physical movements and fashioned their fighting styles after animals. Swayze was a cat, villain Jimmy (Marshall Teague) was a mongoose while Elliott's Garrett was a bear who lumbered, scraped and tore through his opponents. Swayze showcased his dancer's background and flexibility with kicks high, low and spinning galore while Elliott did more straight punching and kneeing. Surprisingly, Elliott did not enjoy the gratuitous violence and sexism of the modern day western where women were basically there to get naked or cry while fight scenes still pack a violent punch all these years later with stabbings, broken limbs, bodies flying through windows and more than a few grisly deaths. Super producer Joel Silver set out to make the greatest Drive-In Movie of all time and had originally approached Elliott for the villain role, which he turned down before signing on to play the mentor.

Budgeted at a healthy $15 million bucks, Road House earned nearly $6 million dollars opening weekend back in May of '89. A $30 million gross wasn't bad but was less than half of Dirty Dancing's. The film was not lauded for it's violence and depiction of women and is seen as a bit of a guilty pleasure or camp classic. Road House was a big hit on video then cable where programmers used the title to boost rating at any given moment. I must have seen it on TBS as a kid and have  always loved the film for being so macho, ridiculous and entertaining while keeping a straight face. There's already a ton of action in the piece but apparently the original cut ran nearly three and a half hours. Now there's a rough cut I'd love to see. While fans mention Road House when they meet Elliott, he never played a similar role to Wade Garrett again, mostly sticking to military or sheriff types in Tombstone, We Were Soldiers, Hulk and many TV movie westerns. A remake of Road House was announced a couple years ago with Fast and Furious director Rob Cohen slated to helm. Now if we could just get a Wade Garrett origins spin off...

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