Camp Classics

They’ll never recapture the sweaty gay glory of Road House

As I’m sure everyone’s heard by now, they’ve remade Road House. “They” being Amazon—the film is set to premiere on Prime in early March, and despite a cast of talented men we’d definitely love to see shirtless (Jake Gyllenhaal, Lukas Gage, Billy Magnusson) it feels like stating the obvious to say that Road House is one of those films that just doesn’t need to be remade, ever. For one thing, it’s perfect as is. For another, there’s a certain kind of gay magic you just can’t capture a second time. The line “I used to f*ck guys like you in prison” somehow just doesn’t hit the same in 2024 as it did in 1989, Jake Gyllenhaal or no.

If you haven’t yet heard the good word of Road House, here’s a rundown: Patrick Swayze takes the lead as Dalton, an elevated bouncer (aka “cooler”) with a zen approach to cleaning up rowdy bars. He’s hotly sought after as one of the two men (the other being Sam Elliott as Wade Garrett, Dalton’s mentor) who can do this very specific job in the midwest. But when he gets a new assignment in the backwoods town of Jasper, Missouri, he soon realizes that his usual pacifist stance won’t work. For one thing, his place of employment—a stripped-down, hopped-up roadhouse called the Double Deuce, so dangerous that the band has to play in a literal cage—is a bit rowdier than he’s used to. For another, the entire town of Jasper dances to the tune of nepo baby Brad Wesley (a beautifully sinister turn by Ben Gazzara.) To clean up the Double Deuce, he’ll have to do more than escort a few thugs with spring-loaded knife boots out the door. Wesley plays dirty, and before long, Dalton finds everyone and everything he loves under attack by the sadistic businessman hell-bent on keeping “his” town dirty.

Amidst all this, of course, is a chance to see Patrick Swayze in peak condition. In this film, he’s the epitome of the strong, silent type. Dalton barely has to say a word to get his point across. He appears shirtless and in butt-hugging sweatpants more than once, and when he’s not putting in hours at the Double Deuce, he can be seen shirtlessly reading Jim Harrison in a minimalist shack above a horse farm and doing self-surgery on his knife wounds. Basically, he’s the total package. Some might say that Dirty Dancing is the Swayze film that occupies the most space in their hearts: for me, it will always be Roadhouse, a movie that perhaps didn’t know it had a lot to say about masculinity, but says it anyway.

The original Road House was a pitch-perfect camp classic precisely because it was a film that had no idea what camp was. When tough guy Swayze teaches his rag-tag band of would-be coolers how to assert authority without breaking a sweat, he becomes a kind of mature Peter Pan figure leading these lost boys toward a more mature, reflective masculinity. When he’s faced with the puerile actions of a hostile clientele, he treats these men like the babies they are. Real men, Swayze’s every action seems to say, don’t lead with their fists. They lead with a long, cool stare, an impenetrable confidence, and an unflappability that comes from knowing exactly who you are and what you stand for.

Not only that, but Road House has its fair share of heartwarming MLM moments. When Dalton’s mentor Wade comes into town to help out, it’s impossible not to catch the eye-twinkling moments of affection between the two. We don’t know anything about Dalton’s family or where he came from: all we know about his past is that Wade showed him how to be the right kind of man. Someone who doesn’t pursue violence for the hell of it, but who can harness his physical strength for the times when it’s truly needed. And when Dalton tragically loses his mentor, it’s a moment out of Greek tragedy. Achilles mourning the death of his lover Patroclus. Siegfried meeting his death at the hands of his foe. It’s tragic as hell, and for a movie that’s so much about the glory of healthy male socialization (as opposed to the sadness of men addicted to violence for no reason) it hits especially hard. Though Dalton’s lover “Doc” (Kelly Lynch) is waiting in the wings, you get the sense that Wade’s loss is something he’ll never truly get over.

So yeah, sure. They can try to remake Road House. But whether the result is a self-consciously campy action thriller or a dead-serious rehashing of old material, it can’t touch the gay genius that accidentally defined the original.

Don't forget to share:
Read More in Culture
The Latest on INTO