Thought Experiment: Ronda Rousey’s ‘Road House’ and the Thrilling Future of Rebooted Action MoviesJeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
They are making a new version of Patrick Swayze’s perfect Road House. That’s a bad idea. Ronda Rousey is going to star in it. That’s a good idea. And it’s a good idea for obvious reasons and for less obvious reasons.
Let’s do a very quick recap of the big shifts in action movies over the past 30 years. We should start in the ’80s, because that’s when Hollywood first got very excited about the idea of action movies, producing films that were wonderful because they leaned all the way into the philosophical principles of “action” and also “movies.” They were campy and completely unreasonable, but they were also completely serious in how they presented and executed their plots. That’s why they’re still so much fun to watch today.
Near the end of the ’80s, they began to transition away from the Ultra Cool and Unflappable Hero (Arnold in Commando or Predator, Stallone in Cobra, Bronson in Death Wish 3, guys like that) to the Reluctant Hero, which was reinvented by Bruce Willis in Die Hard and since has been copied over and over again. From there, the movies started to get darker and started trying to explain and justify themselves, and so we got all of those Antihero Hero movies. After that came the Cool and Grizzled Hero (Danny Trejo in Machete, Liam Neeson in anything). And now we’re getting action movies that are attempting to be fun again on purpose while also trying to work in some of the ’80s-era movie principles. (John Wick is a good version of this, but the best convergence was this summer’s latest Fast & Furious movie, what with Jason Statham’s hyperbolic aggression and the Rock’s wonderfully goofy one-liners.)
But what if we’re resetting that cycle? What if we’ve exhausted all the ways that an action hero can exist, and so now what we have to do is reinvent action heroes? I mean, I get that there have been female action heroes before, but they’ve always been required to be “female” first, and then “action heroes” after that. It’s been an unspoken condition, it seems, because men are generally the ones who are making these movies and men are, by and large, idiots. So it’s been this thing about women having to remain dainty and feminine, or at least a ham-fisted application of what “feminine” is supposed to mean.
But Ronda Rousey’s toughness and realness are unquestionable. So what if she’s able to shift the paradigm? What if Rousey in Road House brings us back to the ’80s-style action movies, with all of the exaggerated action presented unironically, except this time we get them with women as the leads? It’s easy to imagine. Look:
Rousey stars in Road House, right? And we can all agree that taking on that role is a dicey proposition. BUT, how about this: She doesn’t attempt to re-create Swayze’s turn as the iconic and philosophically supreme James Dalton, because that would be impossible. Nobody ever managed to package an elite and almost superheroic skill level into the John Everyman character as seamlessly as he did. (He drives an old car and wears jeans and was taught how to fight by a leather saddle with a ponytail, sure, but let’s not ignore the fact that he outran a guy on a dirt bike, which means he can run like at least 35 mph, a clean 8 mph faster than Usain Bolt’s fastest time.) So rather than try to figure out how to balance that character’s dichotomy as the new James Dalton, instead she plays Jessica Dalton, his daughter.1
We learn that James Dalton and Elizabeth “Doc” Clay stayed in Jasper, Missouri, after Dalton defeated the loathsome Brad Wesley in 1989. They got married, she got pregnant, and they had a single child, a little girl they named Jessica Wade Dalton. We also learn, though, that Elizabeth died during childbirth, and so Dalton had to raise her all alone, and he was doing a very good job of it, but then he was shot in the back and killed while trying to break up a fight when Jessica was just 9 years old. She grows up alone, angry, embittered, a product of Jasper’s lackluster child protective services. Where James Dalton sought to avoid confrontation, Jessica Dalton seeks it out. “Fighting is what my dad taught me,” she tells her love interest, J.J., a farm hand with a mysterious past played by Tom Hardy. “The only time I feel connected to him is when I’m punching someone. And they’re reopening the Double Deuce. It makes too much sense not to do it.”
“Look, I know you miss your dad,” Hardy says, and he makes his eyes do that Broken Man thing where all you can think about is how you want to hug him and tell him that you’ll always be there to take care of him, like what he did for the first 90 minutes of The Drop. “I miss him, too. But he didn’t want this. He didn’t want you fighting. He never wanted you to be a cooler.”
She does it anyway. Things happen. And near the end of the movie, after Jessica Dalton beats who she thinks is the main bad guy in a very exciting after-hours fight, the Double Deuce’s doors swing open. She looks up. And standing there is J.J. “I didn’t want it to be like this,” he says, and his tone is different than it’s been the whole movie, and now he’s doing that thing where he looks like a monster maniac (like what he did for the last 10 minutes of The Drop). “I didn’t want you to know.”
“Know what?” she asks. “What’s going on?”
“Did I ever tell you the story about how my dad died, Jessie?” he says. He’s the only one she ever let call her Jessie. “It’s a crazy story. He had his throat ripped out. Clean out. Can you believe that? The cops found his body; it looked like he’d been attacked by a bear, they said. Just ripped all the way out. Did I ever tell you that? Did I ever tell you that, Jessie?”
“J.J.,” she whispers to herself, but loud enough that he can hear her.
“J.J.,” he says back. “Jimmy Jr.”
TOM HARDY IS GODDAMN JIMMY’S SON FROM THE ORIGINAL ROAD HOUSE.
THIS WHOLE TIME HE WAS JUST PLAYING JESSICA.
AND NOW THEY HAVE TO FIGHT EACH OTHER TO DEATH.2
[PUNCH PUNCH KICK PUNCH ROUNDHOUSE-KICK FLIP-KICK FLIP-PUNCH TABLE-SMASH BOTTLE-SMASH CHAOS CHAOS CHAOS.]
Jessica flips Jimmy Jr. around, exposing his throat, and she goes for it, she tries to tear it out. But she can’t. Her fingers clank off of it. THIS FOOL HAD A SUPER-ADVANCED SURGERY DONE AND NOW HIS THROAT IS FUSED WITH IRON. “I fixed my family’s only weakness,” he says, smiling, and then he flips her over and crashes her through a window. Jimmy Jr. destroys her after that. There’s no way he can be beaten. Poor Jessica, she’s just there, bloody and broken-bodied and broken-hearted, which is maybe worse. And Jimmy Jr.’s standing over her.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he says, and he makes his hand into the tiger paw formation and cocks it back, readying to tear out her throat instead, and the audience is just all the way stunned and shocked. And right when he gets ready to uncoil it, Jessica springs up and Superman-punches him in the nose with all of her energy and fury and hatred, shoving it into his brain, which kills him instantly. He crumples to the floor.
She gets up slowly.
She dusts herself off.
And then she says:
“Looks like your family had two weaknesses.” And then she puts on a pair of sunglasses and a guitar wails in the background.
WOWWWWWWWWWWW. A MASTERPIECE. BUT THE MOVIE KEEPS PLAYING AND EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE IS COMPLETELY INVESTED.
The bartender, who’s been watching from behind the bar the whole time, stands up. “Jesus, did you just Superman-punch that guy to death?” he asks, flabbergasted.
“No,” she says. And she pauses. And she pivots and looks directly into the camera. “I Superwoman-punched that guy to death.” AND THEN SHE PUTS ON ANOTHER PAIR OF SUNGLASSES OVER THE TOP OF HER FIRST PAIR OF SUNGLASSES.
IT’S A DOUBLE ONE-LINER!!!!!!!!! AN ACTION-MOVIE FIRST!!!!
Of course, this version of Rousey’s Road House is a huge and surprising success, opening to a $45 million weekend on a very reasonable budget, and only grows from there. Movie studios rush to copy this sensation, and all of a sudden, just like I said, we’re in the middle of an action-movie renaissance, the energy and excitement of ’80s-era Hollywood pumping out into the universe again.
We get a new Demolition Man, except this time it’s Demolition Woman and it’s incredible. It’s announced early that Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting has been talked away from The Big Bang Theory and Serena Williams, having fully conquered tennis, intends on taking her first steps toward movie superstardom, and so they’re both set to star in it. And there are immediately rumbles and grumbles and sighs about how this new renaissance will inevitably become a one-to-one race swap in all the remakes, only guess what. Surprise, dummies: Cuoco-Sweeting is the new Simon Phoenix and Serena is the new John Spartan.
We get Predator starring Beyoncé, and she’s so good in it that Sony announces it’s scrapped the Bad Boys 3 movie it had planned for 2017. Instead, we get the first iteration of Bad Girls, starring Beyoncé and Rihanna. There’s a new Over the Top starring Jennifer Lawrence. Julianne Moore reboots the Rambo franchise. Natalie Portman grabs Rocky. In an ultra-ambitious bit of casting, Anne Hathaway becomes the new Terminator. Don’t miss Meagan Good in Commando and then Commando 2: Operation Hailstorm and then Commando 3: Operation Firestorm. There’s Drew Barrymore in 2019’s Die Hard. Tilda Swinton is your new Robocop. Rose Byrne takes over the Bloodsport redo, Bloodiersport, and then also the Kickboxer redo, Superkickboxer. Lupita Nyong’o and Eva Mendes in Lethaler Weapon. Kristen Wiig in Top Gun. Amy Adams is your new Conan.
Ronda Rousey is going to rip out Hollywood’s throat and then show it to us. And in that ripped-out throat, we’re all going to see the future.
It’s perfect. It’s all perfect. I can’t wait.