Periscope Depth

don't throw stones; you don't know

On Friday I had the neighbors, Ryan and Erin, over for wine and cheese. We sifted through each other’s movie piles to find good films to laugh over. Neither Erin nor Ryan had seen Road House, so we put that in first.

If marginal utility theory means anything, then I should get more value out of most purchases than I spend on them. But sometimes the ratio skyrockets so far out of whack that I give thanks to the healing power of capitalism. My Dickies messenger bag, for example: I spent $50 on it three years ago and it has easily brought a thousand dollars of convenience into my life. Or my copy of Mind Performance Hacks. Or the Bed of Ages: a Simmons model that the company no longer makes, that I dropped just over a grand on (including frame and headboard) five years ago. I spent enough on the Bed that it’s a close thing, but I still come out black.

Road House has vastly exceeded the $8 I paid for it in the Target discount bin. In the two years I’ve owned it, I’ve watched it at least six times. Maybe one of those times I watched it alone. Every other time, I’ve had friends over, cracked some beers and introduced them to Patrick Swayze’s magnum opus.

Why does Road House work on every level? The fight scenes are fun, as I’ve said before. The hayseed, outdated setting allows for some ironic laughs – particularly when the locals gawk over Swayze’s tanned bod. “He looks like he’s from a coast!”, Erin commented.

But what makes Road House so oddly great is that it’s a well-paced film on a picayune subject. You can almost watch the hero’s status rising and falling on screen, as if on a stock ticker. Anyone who wants to write an action movie should own this on DVD and watch it until it breaks. I am not kidding in any way.

Afterward, we watched Demolition Man, which has a similarly tight plot even if the setting makes us snicker. Stallone, Bullock and Snipes each have one setting (smart-aleck, perky and cocky, respectively), and the movie suffers whenever it asks them to deviate. The story shepherds our heroes from setpiece to setpiece, even if we have to swallow some improbable coincidences to get them there. Perhaps that’s one of the benchmarks for a good action movie: how easily we can believe the transition between car chase and shootout.

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