Nobody Puts Bodhi in the Corner: A Male's View of Patrick Swayze's Best Film Ever
I have to admit it, I really liked Patrick Swayze. Some disclaimers are in order: I'm straight, I thought he was largely a one-trick pony as an actor, and in the late '80s, my smug college friends and I made a cottage industry from scorning Swayze's existence.
Yet, long before his immensely valiant, fight-the-good-fight dignity in the face of impending mortality, I decided I really liked Patrick Swayze. His marriage to wife Lisa in1975 actually made it to the "death do us part" finishing line as stated in wedding vows. Tell me the last time that happened with a major Hollywood figure. Even Swayze's really bad movies, like City of Joy set in India or Black Dog, which teamed our hero with Meatloaf and Randy Travis on what one assumes was not the studio's biggest budget film of 1998, are still good for unintended humor. More predictably, when Swayze recently died from pancreatic cancer, nearly every television and Internet eulogy focused on the two movies that he will certainly be best remembered for, Dirty Dancing and Ghost.
As popular films go, neither is bad, and indeed both certainly have their merit and charm. That Swayze could pull off such lines as, "No one puts Baby in the corner," with a straight face is itself an amazing feat. Dirty Dancing is ultimately hard to resist for its camp value, what with Jews dancing in the Catskills and all. The only thing I would have changed is the ending. Baby's dad, the pompous doctor, deserved a good ass-whooping. Thus, I yearned for an Oedipal showdown between pops and Swayze's Johnny Castle character for Baby's hand, with Johnny taking the good doctor's scalpel and gutting him but good. "The Time of Their Lives," indeed.
Ghost is less memorable for my money. I saw it when it came out in the summer of 1990 and have no desire to view it again. It was okay, not horrible, not great, somewhat hokey. The cast contained superior talent to Dirty Dancing, with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, but the film doesn't have the staying power of Dirty Dancing. For example, my own children, all born well after either film was released, have asked to view Dirty Dancing multiple times but have never requested Ghost from Netflix or the video store.
Still, both of these blockbusters are unabashed chick flicks. I'm certainly no misogynist; female-oriented movies are a valuable and needed genre within the film industry. From "The Way We Were," to "Boys on the Side," to "The Notebook," among many others, such films are an integral part of the Hollywood machine. As a thinking adult, I much prefer such semi-weepy fare to mindless gore, for example.
Having said all that, the eulogies to Swayze all omitted what I strongly believe to be his best role and his best movie from a male's perspective, and if you thought I was going to cite Roadhouse for that honor, you are sorely mistaken. That film is a mess, from the unlikely plot to the cheesy acting. Swayze, as a PhD philosopher turned mercenary bouncer who cleans up a bar called the Double Deuce in that booming metropolis, Jasper, Missouri, is hardly the stuff of classic cinematography. "Unintentionally laughable" might be the best description for this seeming parody of the old western film sensibility. Swayze's character, Dalton, carries his own medical chart at all times in case he needs to be stitched, bandaged, or otherwise medicated after a trying night of barroom brawling. And of course, the physician attending to his needs is a statuesque blond (Kelly Lynch), who is bedded by Dalton the PhD bouncer in short order after being patched up. That's some health care reform I can get behind. Movie reviewer Simon Barber summarized Roadhouse as "Sleazy sex and weak dialog. Unbelievable characters." Amen, Brother. This is certainly not the Swayze film for the discerning male.
(By the way, an even more unintentionally funny Swayze film is 1984’s Red Dawn.
Harry Dean Stanton screaming "Avenge me!" from the drive-in movie/ Soviet prison camp is priceless. Suffice it to say, a bunch of rural kids who lost their Friday night football game to Podunk High end up defeating the Red Menace Russians by using homemade weapons, ending the Cold War and starting a New World Order. Very plausible.)
So that brings us to the 1991 opus, Point Break. This is the thinking man's Patrick Swayze classic. Starring in a film with Keanu Reeves was a professional masterstroke- Reeves' stilted and rigid acting style make Swayze look like John Barrymore Houston by comparison. Reeves, as FBI Special Agent Johnny Utah, seems to be trying to deliver his lines from cue cards without actually having yet mastered the English language. Additionally, he largely exhibits the emotional range of a cadaver in his role as an ex-college quarterback turned undercover surfing federal agent. I never thought I’d think, “Thank God for Gary Busey,” but as Utah’s partner, Angelo Pappas, he alone brings some needed punch to this duo.
Still, this film had it all: gravity-defying surfing maneuvers, martial arts beach fighting scenes, the "dead presidents" robbing banks in high style, Busey’s eccentricities, a self-parodied Anthony Kiedis cameo, gratuitously nude thug girlfriends, skydiving without benefit of parachutes - a smorgasbord of reckless mayhem from opening to closing credits. In the process, Swayze exhibits an acting range heretofore unseen in his better known blockbusters. His Bodhi character remains a mysterious figure throughout - who is this guy really? What was his past? What's his actual name, for God's sakes! Swayze pulls off a character that is at various points intriguing, witty, violent, peaceful, philosophical, and petulant. He renders Bodhi at once both likable and repugnant which is no small accomplishment. Admittedly, Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow deserves some of the credit here. Too bad she couldn't similarly coax something more human out of Reeves.
And take a look at Swayze's physical condition: He was 38 when Point Break was filmed. As Bodhi - the spiritual surf-god-guru-zen-master with a megalomaniac bank robber alter ego - he looks maybe 25 years old. Check out the flowing blond locks, the infomercial abs, and his rib-kicking moves assisting the outnumbered Johnny Utah in the beach fight. (Yeah, I know they used stunt men. Bear with me here. It's still impressive stuff.)
With a cast including Busey, Reeves, Lori Petty, John C. McGinley, and Kiedis along with sundry psychopathic characters with the unlikely names of "Lupton Pittman" and "Bunker Weiss," this is a film worth having in your collection and although not a single commentator I heard mentioned it among Swayze's finest work when eulogizing him, it deserves major consideration as the Patrick Swayze film for males, much the way Dirty Dancing is to females.
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