Road House: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (10th October 2016).
The Film

The 1980's. Home to more macho men than a Village People concert, each armed to the teeth, ready to fight and/or screw (usually both) their way out of any situation. This is what leading men did back in those days, their testosterone-fueled actions lording over every other plot element. Most of those manly action movies were filled with gunfights and rippling muscles, but “Road House” (1989) eschews those familiar elements in favor of a lithe leading man and good ol’ fisticuffs. This is a rough and rowdy picture, with bursts of plot peeking out from behind one barroom brawl after the next. It’s a modern western; a film where the line between good guys and bad guys is drawn clearly and stepped upon frequently.

Dalton (Patrick Swayze) is a “cooler” in the bar business. When tempers flare and fighting is imminent, he’s the one to cool down the tension. His reputation as the best in the biz precedes him, so much so that Frank (Kevin Tighe), owner of the Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri, pays the man a visit. Frank used to run a respectable bar but ever since a seedier element has taken over his place has become infamous as a place where guys go to drink and fight. He needs Dalton in the worst way possible, and he’s willing to pay whatever it takes. Being that Dalton is an itinerant worker with no set loyalty he takes the gig and hauls off to Jasper.

Dalton arrives at the Double Deuce and it’s just as Frank described it: a savage den of testosterone fueled by alcohol and bad decisions. He quickly surveys the scene, takes note of which employees can and can’t be trusted, and then lays down the rules: his way or the highway. One of the employees he decides to can takes issue with being let go and squeals to his uncle, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Brad controls all of the liquor distribution in town, in addition to his numerous other misdeeds his minions perform. As far as he’s concerned, Brad built this town up to what it is today and so the people here owe him a debt, not of gratitude but of their own earned income. Dalton and the remaining staff at the Double Deuce fight off Brad’s lackeys almost every night, but fighting is a tough trade and eventually the rivalry between he and Brad reaches a boiling point. One of them has to go.

Patrick Swayze was taken at far too young an age, but the great thing about film is that he can, in some ways, be immortal. Dalton is a tough bastard with a strong moral code and a surprising level of depth for a guy who makes a living knocking heads. He’s a true renaissance man. Swayze plays him with such a sense of presence and grace, like a dancer (which Swayze was) capable of Mike Tyson level ass-kicking. He embodies so many respectable qualities that it makes you wonder how he got into such a business. Early in the film, when asked who won a fight in which he received a wound that left a scar, he replies, “No one wins a fight”. Dalton is a man who speaks succinctly, only saying what needs to be said. He allows his actions to do the rest of the talking, usually to the surprise of those around him since everyone “thought he’d be bigger”. One of the best foreshadowing moments in the film comes when someone is discussing Dalton’s fearsome rep and says “I heard he ripped a guy’s throat out!”, a bold claim that is lent credence during the most evenly-matched fight of the film.

A great hero is only as good as his villain and, boy, is Brad Wesley just that. Gazzara cruises through this role like he was slipping on a tailored suit. Wesley isn’t large and imposing; he’s a normal man with balls of steel and a rock solid constitution. As far as he’s concerned he owns this town, and everyone in it, and he flexes his muscle at every opportunity to remind the citizens. When Dalton proves he can’t be bought or scared off, Wesley simply brings out the big guns and makes sure his point comes across loud and clear. A great example of his entitlement comes early in the film during a small moment, when Dalton is driving down the street and is nearly hit by Wesley, who is cruising back and forth across the street lines like a drunk, singing along to old standards and paying no mind to anyone around him. Wesley is the evil lord of this small town, with Dalton the savior brought in by locals to vanquish him. The archetypes are classic western but instead of one grand showdown at the end, we get one after the other.

My favorite moments in “Road House” are the staredowns and posturing between Dalton and Jimmy (Marshall Teague), one of Wesley’s most dangerous thugs. Jimmy is set up as an equal to Dalton, one of the few who can match his power but with an unbridled ferocity. Their big fight is teased constantly throughout the film until the moment when Jimmy causes some serious damage on Dalton’s home front and their egos explode in one of cinema’s great brawls. Sure, there is a strong sense of homoeroticism prevalent through their match – and, really, this entire film in general – but that’s how these machismo movies have always been, riding that fine line between fighting and f*cking. In fact, at one point Jimmy, briefly with the upper hand, says to Dalton, “I used to f*ck guys like you in prison!” Can’t get much more on the nose than that.

“Road House” is a celebration of men fighting and… well, not much else. The characters are black and white, the stakes are made clear, and everyone dishes out as many licks as they take. And, damn, is this ever one of the most enjoyable, entertaining, hootin’ and hollerin’ times you can have watching a film. For me, this is Swayze’s best role, his legacy, and it’s a damn fine bit of acting on his part. Dalton isn’t just A cooler, he IS cooler than every sumb*tch around. From the country-fried rock soundtrack to the frequent fights and every little bit of bouncer philosophy in between, this is an 80's all-timer that is required viewing for everyone.

Video

Previously issued on Blu-ray by MGM, with a decent transfer, “Road House” is the fourth film in Shout! Factory’s Select line, featuring a new 2K scan of the inter-positive, supervised and approved by Dean Cundey, the cinematographer. The 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image looks very sharp, with the only real complaint to make being that contrast levels appear a bit boosted. This makes some of the night scenes look a little hazier than expected, but since this was approved by Cundey viewers should just assume this is how it is meant to look. Colors are robust and accurate. Detailing is variable but overall very pleasing, especially daylight scenes that allow finer details to really shine through.

Audio

Audio is presented as an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in both 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo flavors. The multi-channel track is unquestionably the way to go, as it allows the soundfield a chance to really spread out. The soundtrack, brought to life by Jeff Healey and other rockin’ bar bands, enjoys excellent fidelity, providing a nice sense of immersion by pounding it out through all available channels. You’ll feel like you’re right there in the bar, ducking bottles and avoiding punches. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, with only a few lines lost to the melee occurring at any given moment. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

Here is where Shout! Select’s new disc really shines, with a plethora of extra features that put MGM’s sparse offering to shame. Viewers will find two audio commentary tracks, numerous interviews, a documentary, bouncer stories, photo gallery, and more.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

The only extras found here are the audio commentary tracks; the first with director Rowdy Herrington, while the second features “Road House” fans Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier.

DISC TWO: BLU-RAY

“I Thought You’d Be Bigger: The Making of Road House” (1080i) is a documentary that runs for 63 minutes and 14 seconds. There are a lot of talking heads here, and plenty of ground is covered, but this piece feels like it runs a little long and is slightly disjointed. Obviously Swayze and Gazzara are absent, but so is Sam Elliott and his presence might have rounded this out a bit better.

“A Conversation with Director Rowdy Herrington” (1080i) is an interview that runs for 29 minutes and 38 seconds. Herrington covers all the expected ground here, discussing “Road House” from inception to release.

“Pain Don’t Hurt: The Stunts of Road House” (1080i) is a featurette that runs for 22 minutes and 29 seconds. Stunt coordinator Jimmy Piacini and a handful of the film’s other stunt players are on hand to discuss their work on this action-heavy feature.

“Pretty Good for a Blind White Guy: The Music of Road House” (1080i) is a featurette that runs for 9 minutes and 22 seconds. This piece focuses on Jeff Healey and his exceptional playing, though Healey was unable to participate due to passing away in 2008.

“Remembering Patrick Swayze” (1080i) featurette runs for 15 minutes and 6 seconds. Most of the participants from these featurettes offer up some of their own reflections on the life of Swayze and what he meant to them.

“On the Road House” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 17 minutes and 23 seconds, this is a legacy piece featuring old interviews with the film’s cast & crew, some of whom are no longer with us.

“What Would Dalton Do?” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 12 minutes and 26 seconds. This is another legacy piece, featuring interviews with bouncers who recount some of their own scary tales.

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 57 seconds.

“On the Set” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 3 minutes and 44 seconds, showing off some behind-the-scenes on-set footage of the monster truck demolition and some fighting.

Patrick Swayze Profile” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 2 minutes and 41 seconds, this is an archival remembrance of the late actor.

“Selected Soundbites” (SD) is a collection of interview outtakes with Swayze and others, running for 11 minutes.

A photo gallery (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

Packaging

The two-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. Each disc is housed in a hub opposite the other.

Overall

If you haven’t seen “Road House”, buy this and watch it. If you already own “Road House” on DVD and love it, buy this Blu-ray. If you already own the previous MGM Blu-ray and are on the fence about this one, well, how much do you care about bonus features? The transfer is improved, and this is definitely as definitive a release as we’re ever gonna get, but unless you’re a true videophile those improvements might not matter much. Either way, this is the edition fans have wanted for years and now it’s here.

The Film: A- Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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