Patrick Swayze: The Best Cooler in the Business

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 15 2009 3:18 AM

Patrick Swayze: The Best Cooler in the Business

In the wake of Patrick Swayze’s death of pancreatic cancer at age 57, there'll be a lot of talk about the romantic leading men he played in his two biggest hits, Dirty Dancing and Ghost : rescuing Baby from that ignominious corner or spooning Demi Moore at the pottery wheel .

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Advertisement


But I'll remember Road House ( 1989) and Point Break (1991), two proudly terrible B-movies that showcased Swayze’s unique combination of masculine swagger and gracile elegance. "I thought you’d be bigger," everyone keeps telling Swayze’s character in Roadhouse , and the running joke is on the audience as well—for a man that good at breaking heads and hearts, Swayze’s build was surprisingly slender and delicate. (Before becoming an actor, he was headed for a career as a ballet dancer.)

In Road House , Swayze plays Dalton, a philosophy-grad-turned-nightclub bouncer (or "cooler") who defends a bar in small-town Missouri from a band of local gangsters led by Ben Gazzara.   In one scene, Dalton introduces himself to the bar’s rowdy security staff with preternatural calm and Zen restraint, invoking the three precepts of nightclub security: "Never underestimate your opponent, take it outside, and be nice until it’s time not to be nice." Dalton’s martial-arts influenced fighting style and serenely mystical mien are what set him apart from the sweaty, hulking rubes of Roadhouse— men who, in Dalton’s memorable words, are " too stupid to have a good time ." For all its monster trucks and bar brawls, Roadhouse functions surprisingly well as a critique of knuckledragging masculinity. By the standards of the Double Deuce roadhouse (and of most action-movie audiences in 1989), Dalton is a sexually ambiguous figure, an effete import from the city whose philosophy degree only makes him stronger: a death-dealing sissy. He’s nice until it’s time not to be nice. His archenemy Jimmy (Marshall R. Teague) grabs him in a headlock, sneering , "I used to fuck guys like you in prison." But it’s Dalton, the implied bottom, who will come out on top in the climactic fight.



In Point Break , Swayze’s character, a surfing bankrobber who's a guru to Keanu Reeves’ FBI agent Johnny Utah, is named Bodhi (short for Bodhisattva). As was the case with Dalton, Bodhi’s existence on a higher spiritual plane cohabits unproblematically with his ability to kick ass and take names. "In six seconds we’re going to be meat waffles," Bodhi announces cheerily to Johnny as they prepare to jump out of a plane. "Adios, amigo!" And in the final scene, as Bodhi, cornered at last by the FBI, chooses to sacrifice himself to the ultimate, unsurfable wave rather than submit to the law, Swayze’s purity of purpose has a deranged grandeur. Swayze was a student of Buddhism in real life, and his flair for playing this kind of camp action hero (the surfing criminal mastermind, the bouncer with a Ph.D.) has something Buddhist about it. Far from slumming, he seemed to throw himself into his most absurd roles with a surplus measure of joy. Swayze’s character in Road House surprised everyone with his slight stature. They thought he’d be bigger. But Patrick Swayze was just the opposite: He was bigger than we thought.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.