Tom Jolliffe takes in a Patrick Swayze badass double bill of Point Break and Road House…
The late great Patrick Swayze had quite the impact on film history. His most iconic roles were of course his two iconic chick flick leading man roles in Dirty Dancing and Ghost. One might assume with such particular favourites for female cinema goers, that Swayze was your typical romantic leading man, a world away from being a hardass. Few actors can cross over between the romantic hero roles and the action roles with believability, but one of the greatest crossover artists was Mr Swayze starring as two of the coolest action film characters to grace the silver screen. Here I revisit both those roles, looking back at Point Break and Road House.
Before getting onto Swayze, I’ll start with the other reasons why Point Break is brilliant. In reality it shouldn’t be. The concept is strange to say the least. The film is “big, dumb and full of…” well, I’ll end that quote there. The film is ridiculous at times. Some of the dialogue is pretty daft (yet made to sound somehow magnificently cool when delivered by Swayze). Keanu Reeves is an FBI agent who has to go undercover as a surfer to track a group of bank-robbing surf dudes. One possible group is one headed by Swayze. Needless to say, he and his thrill seeking hippie rebels are of course the criminals.
Point Break is trash but beautiful trash. The film looks fantastic. Shot wonderfully in Panavision with real style from Kathryn Bigelow, this has some brilliantly evocative surf scenes. Then there’s the action sequences which are brilliantly shot and cut. Bigelow adds a real James Cameron-esque flourish. Cameron produced this in fact, and of course Bigelow is something of a protégé of his. She really does elevate this to something better than the sum of its parts with some innovative action and great style. The foot-chase is fantastic. There’s also a nice understated and atmospheric score from Mark Isham that often beautifully combines with the glorious visuals, particularly when the ocean appears.
Then there’s Keanu Reeves. Keanu can be a little vacant looking it must be said. Some might argue just how much acting prowess he possesses, and true, Reeves has this rare gift of being able to incredibly wooden and overact at the same time. That said, Reeves goes into his roles with great gusto and is normally pretty likeable. This is the case here. He lacks the charisma of Swayze, but he makes for a solid enough lead, allowing his support cast to add the gravitas. Supporting ably is the legendary Gary Busey, probably during the height of his action film supporting roles.
However this movie belongs to Swayze. Firstly his character has a cool name - Bodhi. He holds the attention of those around him with a seeming wisdom. He might be the antagonist of the piece but Bodhi is far from a villain. He’s an interesting anti-hero. He’s probably more likeable than Reeves’ hero. Swayze oozes charisma in this and badassedness. The fight sequences are well made, and visceral. Swayze performs them well, his dance background coming in useful. He’s just cool in this. The epitome of it. Seriously, Bodhi might be one of the coolest characters ever. His exit from the movie, at the very end is simply magnificent. Truly the only way such an enigmatic character could depart.
Rumours raged many years about a sequel, possibly involving Swayze. That never transpired, perhaps fortunately, given it would have lacked the style given to it by Bigelow. Rumours of a remake surfaced too but that would be difficult to do, again, without being too conventional.
Point Break remains the best example of why Swayze wasn’t just a chick flick specialist. This is a really manly film, but that said it’s genius, and perhaps it’s one of the best at this, if the fact it is also extremely popular with female audiences too. Perhaps this is the more feminine side to Bigelow’s often quite masculine direction. It may also be to do with the two leading men, Reeves and Swayze, both at the height of their attractiveness to the masses of adoring female fans. Both men in fact battled it out for the Most Desirable Male gongs at the MTV Movie Awards, with Keanu the victor. I won’t argue that decision as my girlfriend will get a little worried about me, but certainly this film was a great date movie back in the day. It ticks all the boxes of a good man movie, as well as pleasing the ladies, less interested in the pyrotechnics and fighting and more in the artistic shots and romantic scenes (or I could be wrong).
Most of all it’s brilliant because Keanu Reeves fires his gun in the air and shouts “aaaaaaahhh!”
This film is a stuntman’s wet dream. It features countless bar fights, meaning mass punch ups, bottles smashed over heads, people thrown over bars and through tables, a reckless use of pool cues. It’s also one of the most brilliantly cheesy, manly films ever made.
Swayze plays Dalton. He’s an enigmatic cooler (that’s like a head bouncer) who’s the best of the best when it comes to turning trouble prone bars into peaceful saloons. He’s asked to come sort out the Double Deuce. It’s the sort of place, as the owner puts it where “we sweep the eye balls away at closing time.” The whole film is loaded with brilliantly goofy lines like that. Most lines are one liners in this. In general context the screenplay is ridiculous. In action movie context it’s a work of art. It ticks all the boxes you want. It’s loaded with great lines, a fantastic hero and brilliant villain, and some memorable characters in between.
Swayze is a complete badass here. Dalton’s a haunted man. Haunted because he likes ripping peoples throats out when he’s pushed too far. Dalton doesn’t want to fight, but people keep forcing his hand, and they do it a lot in this film. Before the film is done it goes without saying that Dalton rips someone’s throat out. Since that man utters lines like “I used to f**k guys like you in prison!” I guess that’s no bad thing! The fight scenes are extremely well done. As in Point Break, Swayze performs them impeccably.
Opposing Dalton is Brad Wesley, the crook who runs the town, bleeding the locals dry of their money. It’s an old story but it’s done well. Ben Gazzara is superb though. It’s such a slimy role to play. Westley is almost hilariously unlikeable. Really obnoxious. Gazzara has an absolute blast portraying him. The best part is seeing that Wesley has a monster truck amongst his vehicles, knowing full well it’ll come into play at some point later in the film. Sam Elliot pops up as Dalton’s former mentor. He’s also pretty cool but of course not a patch on the throat ripping, tai chi by riverside awesomeness of Dalton.
The film looks brilliant. It’s a Joel Silver pic, with the usual visual sheen of his 80s and early 90s action spectaculars. Filmed in Panavision it’s got a great scope to the picture and nicely evokes the great Westerns (apt with the very atypical Western plotline). In addition the music of the film is great. Michael Kamen is a name synonymous with some of the best action scores of the 80s and 90s. He delivers solid work here. Not as iconic as Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, but still top notch. The rock blues sound-track includes The Jeff Healey Band and the Cruzados. Their lead singer Tito Larriva would later form Tito and Tarantula who featured in Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn.
Road House is pure cheese, but is cheese that bad? No, cheese is awesome, unless you’re lactose intolerant. In which case don’t watch this! For what it is though, it’s expertly crafted with plenty of cracking action.