Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Polar Bear Fell On Me" OR "Pain Don't Hurt" OR "I Used To Fuck Guys Like You In Prison" - 20 Years of ROADHOUSE

Thursday nights at the old HQ 10 were usually the most fun night of the week for the theater staff, because almost always meant an after-closing screening of the new films for that weekend, which could sometimes mean an all-nighter of movies that I was always up for. We would call this process "checking prints", meaning that we had to make sure that the prints were suitable for showing to the general public, but this was pretty much bullshit, because in all my time there this kind of problem only occurred once, when a lab fuck up gave us a print of HALLOWEEN 5 that repeated a scene twice (fitting for such a repetitive movie). These screenings would usually just contain a few of us (usually those who didn't have school the following day), but some of the bigger movies brought in more than a few folks, and our Thursday night showing of PULP FICTION damn near packed the house with staff, managers, and their friends. I wouldn't necessarily say that any of these screenings were among the greatest movie going nights of my life - memorable as the were, it was never a substitute for seeing a film in a packed theater - but there is always one that will stand out in my mind, and it happened 20 years ago last night: ROADHOUSE. Rowdy Herrington and Joel Silver's ode to beatin' up rednecks that has endured a hell of a lot longer than anyone would have anticipated, though it shouldn't have been a surprise, as indicated by that HQ 10 screening.

First off, let's get this out of the way: ROADHOUSE is not a good movie. I know a lot of people love it and it's their favorite movie, but it's so colossally stupid that, as entertaining as it is (and it's pretty damn entertaining), it should not be mistaken for anything of quality. Hell, I seemed to know that even then, as a chubby brat fresh out of high school, though I definitely enjoyed myself and would occasionally stick my head in to re-watch some of the better moments during the film's relatively brief HQ 10 run. It's a very LCD kind of movie, made to appeal to the idiot in all of us, that's also a pretty cynical one; ROADHOUSE knows what it is, knows what it's audience wants, and delivers it all in heaping doses - tits, blood, fights, explosions, macho dialogue, you name it. There's a moment where Ben Gazarra, referring to his mistress's choice of music, shouts, "I can't stand that crap. It's got no heart!" and that pretty much nails down what's wrong with ROADHOUSE. As much fun as it is, it's a rather soulless thing that I've only ever enjoyed on a superficial level, like a cheeseburger. While it's silly to ever expect anything more out of it, I've seen numerous other films of its type that have done much more with much less that I've never really been a fully-fledged member of the cult of ROADHOUSE. Sure, it's a slick and professional exploitation movie - nothing wrong with that - but anyone who tosses the word "classic" before or after this title hasn't a single idea what they're talking about. You want a moronic action movie that's worth remembering? Take a look at Brian Trenchard-Smith's THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, then watch ROADHOUSE again, and let's talk. There's stupid done right for you right there.

OK, so I've aired my grievance about ROADHOUSE, but I must also take this opportunity to confess that I've seen the damn thing several times, have shown it to friends who have never seen it before, and even saw a not-very-good camp Off-Off-Off Broadway theatrical production starring Timak from THE LAST DRAGON in the Patrick Swayze role. It's definitely so bad it's good, even if it is a piece of shit in some ways at least it's a watchably entertaining one. That's been my reaction all along, but this is a movie that the Spike TV audience has taken to heart in ways that I'm not 100% comfortable with and that's always been the problem. That HQ 10 screening 20 years ago was memorable in part because all of us employees - Kev, Cahill, Bender, Strat, Bev, Hatley, Moriarity and whoever else I may be forgetting - were the proper age for enjoying that movie and enjoy it we did, making for a fun night of hooping and hollering and having a good time. But what got to me was that when it was over, everyone loved it so much they decided to run it again, the first and only time that ever happened at HQ 10, while I decided I couldn't do that and watched Savage Steve Holland's HOW I GOT INTO COLLEGE instead (which I also decided I couldn't do either and left halfway through). I won't deny anyone their love of ROADHOUSE, but for God's sake get it out of your head that it's anything more than enjoyable trash. There are better action movies, better hicksploitation movies, better uses of Sam Elliott and, hell, even better Patrick Swayze movies out there to enjoy. The fact that ROADHOUSE is still remembered fondly 20 years later certainly shows that the dumb guys won this battle, but let's not kid ourselves about it. I enjoy a good, stupid movie as much as the next guy - and I enjoy ROADHOUSE - but I also got my standards and I know I've seen better. Yet, I also know I will probably watch it again at some point before I die. Such is it's power.

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