This May marks the 30th anniversary of Road House, director Rowdy Herrington’s poetic evocation of masculinity, faith, and the mythos of the American dream. LOL, just kidding, Patrick Swayze rips a dude’s throat out and does tai chi. This was post-Red Dawn, post-Dirty Dancing, when Swayze was already well on his way to becoming an icon of American cinema. Attractive and endlessly charismatic, Swayze nevertheless got shown up in his own damn movie by Road House’s real paragon of sex appeal: Sam Elliott.
After five decades in the business, Elliott finally got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for playing Bradley Cooper’s put-upon older brother in A Star Is Born. To which I say, fine: But did you see that bit where he met his protege’s girlfriend and flashed his pubic hair at her within five minutes? Did you see that scene in A Star Is Born? No. It would have been a very different film if you had.
Road House’s Wade Garrett is, to be honest, kind of a sleazeball. A legendary (!) bouncer (!) —which is the sort of thing that only existed in action movies of the ’80s — he’s introduced working at a bar during wet T-shirt night. He’s sexual in a way movie mentors often don’t get to be. They’re there to spur on the main character and maybe die at an opportune moment, not to pull focus away from the star. Wade may use the endearing nickname “mijo” —a contraction of “mi hijo,” meaning “my son” — to refer to Dalton, but he’s not some crusty geriatric who doesn’t remember where his dick is.
Dalton definitely remembers where his dick is. We know this from the scene where, shortly after meeting Dalton’s girlfriend Doc (Kelly Lynch), Wade proceeds to nearly flash said organ at her under the guise of showing her a scar on his hip. Peeling down your jeans and flashing a thick thatch of pubic hair at your son figure’s new girlfriend isn’t exactly paternal behavior. Burgess Meredith in Rocky never did it. Ditto Other Doc in Back to the Future.
Wade Garrett: Has no boundaries!
Wade Garrett: Doesn’t wear underwear!
This is practically the first we see of Wade: Rolling into Junction City to check on Dalton, getting into a fistfight to save Dalton from being beaten to death, meeting Dalton’s girlfriend, then spending the next two scenes hitting on her in such a blatant way as to put all of Tinder to shame. He tells Doc that Dalton is “great coming out of the gate, but not much for stamina,” and Dalton’s response is an amiable chuckle. Dalton! He’s talking about your penis. Do something.
One gets the sense that Wade’s seduction is supposed to be endearing. “LOL, this old guy’s hitting on Patrick Swayze’s girlfriend. Nice try, gramps!” On paper, sure. But then Herrington went and cast Sam Elliott, whose innate warmth and decency tempers Garrett’s more scumbag-adjacent characteristics. Wade Garrett wears the same clothes — black jeans, white wife-beater, black button-up — in all his scenes, despite his part in the film taking place over the course of several days. He probably smells. At one point, he stops just short of referring to a woman as a “cunt.” And again: He exposes himself to a woman he barely knows. He’s a jackass! But he’s played by Sam Elliott, who’s been married to Katharine Ross for 30 years and comes across as a goddamn good guy. My underwear: Same as Wade Garrett’s. Gone!
There have been other sexy movie characters before — two of them, both played by Common — but said characters never had a dramatic motorcycle entrance followed an exact 109 seconds later by leaning over and punching a man square in the dick. The exchange that occurs immediately before said dick-punching (“You wanna fight, dickless?” “Well I sure ain’t gonna show you my dick.”) is somehow imbued with (dare I say it) almost a sense of dignity by Elliott’s smooth-yet-rough delivery.
How does Doc do a slow-dance with Wade Garrett after a long night of drinking and almost seeing Wade’s dick and not dump Dalton on the spot? Forget whether or not Deckard from Blade Runner is a replicant: This is the true mystery of film.
There’s Wade, who in all of his scenes runs his hands through his hair like a particularly coquettish Bond girl at least twice. And then there’s Dalton, who does not know how to dress. Dalton, who took the Double Deuce, a bar with a rustic sort of charm — OK, it’s the kind of place they “sweep the eyeballs up after closing,” but I’d go — and made the bouncers wear polo shirts and khakis. The Applebee’s-esque corporate nightmare causes Wade to derisively (accurately!) term it the “Double Douche.” And Wade doesn’t even sound like a douche calling something a douche.
The question is no question at all. Sam Elliott may finally be an Oscar nominee, but there’s no topping the career height that is making Patrick Swayze look like an unsexy doofus.