Making a good sequel—particularly one that contains none of the actors, characters, or locations from the original film—requires one thing above all else: getting the tone right. Anybody sitting down to watch Road House 2: Last Call will expect a campy, fun action movie that takes place in the same outsized world of legendary coolers, over-tanned villains, and internal strife revolving around torn-out throats. What they get is a standard dull DTV action film whose only ties to the original film are repeated quotes of its memorable dialogue.
Johnathon Schaech stars as Shane Tanner, moderately sleazy DEA agent and son of Dalton, Patrick Swayze’s character in the first film. Shane heads to Louisiana when he gets word that his uncle, Nate (Will Patton), has been hospitalized after a beating by a group of drug dealers because he won’t sell his bar. I will admit that pretty much the only good thing about this movie is the bar, which sits on the edge of a lake and simply looks great. I don’t know if they shot the film in a real bar or built one for the production, but whatever the case, it looks better than anything else in this movie.
With Nate hospitalized, Shane decides to take over the bar’s day-to-day operations until he can unravel a coke-smuggling/selling conspiracy that involves Wild Bill (Jake Busey). The small Louisiana town is roughly the halfway point between Miami and Texas, which makes it a great way station for a smuggling operation from Mexico. The film spends much less time at the bar than a film called Road House 2: Last Call should, concentrating instead on the cocaine material and the blossoming romance between Shane and Beau (Ellen Hollman), a nice but mildly trampy local teacher who’s conveniently ex-military. Eventually, Shane learns Wild Bill had some responsibility in the death of Dalton, which makes it personal. Violence ensues.
I don’t want to turn this review into a list of reasons why the original Road House is so amazing, but because the sequel gets pretty much everything wrong, I feel like a few comparisons need to be made. In the first place, the original film made an oddly low-stakes conflict into the stuff of heightened melodrama and over-the-top action. Ben Gazzara did not play an exceptionally well-tanned drug kingpin or Mafioso or anything else. He played a local businessman interested in a small-town monopoly. That’s it. The story wasn’t even slightly complicated, and it spent 60-70% of its time at the titular Double Deuce road house. The sequel’s decision to turn this into a standard drug-smuggling story (with a few tacked-on references to Wild Bill as Dalton’s murderer to create a tenuous, puerile tie to the original), ironically, makes everything routine. The fact that Gazzara would blow up a man’s auto-parts store because he won’t sell out is mind-blowingly silly; the fact that coke smugglers will kill to protect their operation is not.
I guess I just can’t figure out why anyone would want to pay homage to a gloriously over-the-top action film without really understanding what made the original so entertaining. Would anyone really watch it and say, “You know what this needs? Cocaine in front of the camera instead of just behind it”?
I might be alone in wanting to have fun when I watch an action movie. They’re escapist drivel, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for. I don’t want a brooding, Law Abiding Citizen-esque study of a man who doesn’t want to kill but simply has no other choice. The problem with recent action movies is that, from a narrative standpoint, they’re exactly as stupid as the ones from the ’80s and ’90s—but the people making them think making the protagonist a reluctant, glowering sourpuss makes the movies deep and compelling. Instead, they simply make them boring.
Shane Tanner isn’t always a hulking sourpuss, but he’s also not nearly as fun as Dalton in the original. Patrick Swayze had an indefinable energy that allowed him to play everything to the over-the-top fullest. In Joel Silver’s candy-coated action universe, Swayze stood out as a man of absolute, stone-faced seriousness. Instead of smartass one-liners, he had pop-philosophy monologues. However, the films themselves didn’t adopt his grave tone. In fact, Road House used his unflappable charisma to its advantage. Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone could not possibly work as the ultimate cooler. In the cartoon world of the original film, you could believe Swayze as the emotionless bouncer to end all bouncers—a man who wouldn’t let women, drugs, and money distract him from his true purpose in life: allowing people have a good time at rowdy bars.
The same can’t be said for Schaech. The opening scene seems to exist to paint Shane Turner with the same brush as his “father.” An undercover DEA agent at a strip club, Shane spends some post-arrest time receiving a lap dance from another undercover DEA agent. Although he turns down her explicit request for sex, his leering response to the lap dance and obvious disappointment that he can’t flip her over and do his thing (seemingly because he received an emergency phone call about Nate, not because he’s too zen to require such animal pleasures) set him apart from Dalton rather than showing the similarities. When he lists Dalton’s rules to the workers at Nate’s bar, Shane seems sort of amused (and so do his employees) instead of absolutely committed to what amounts to the Ten Commandments for bouncers and barbacks.
It obviously doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but why does it even try? The connections to the first film are thinner than cheesecloth, and it’s sort of pathetic to ride another film’s coattails just to make a quick buck on name recognition.
Looking at it on its own terms, though, the film still doesn’t hold up. It takes the most generic possible approaches to the drug trade (angry, racist white men working for disrespectful Latinos), Louisiana culture (everyone unnecessarily rides fan boats), romance (Beau won’t tell Shane her name, then starts quietly stalking him to show she not-so-secretly wants him), and action (I defy you to find a single moment of action in this film that you haven’t seen in a better film). The acting ranges from mediocre to hammy, the leaden tone and sloppy action suggest a limited future for director Scott Ziehl, and the plot twists aren’t so much telegraphed by the movie itself as by the thousands of movies just like it.
Even if it spent enough time in the bar to earn its status as a Road House sequel, it would still qualify as the most generic of DTV action vehicles—a film that would be quickly forgotten were it not for needlessly co-opting the Road House name.