The legend is gone. Patrick Swayze sadly passed away on September 14, due to complications from pancreatic cancer, but he left behind a plethora of entertaining releases in his filmography. Sure, everyone knows about his big hits Dirty Dancing and Ghost, but there are plenty of other either somewhat or incredibly lesser-known films that Swayze made that will be the focus here, and while no one will put these productions on the same level as Gone with the Wind or Citizen Kane, the fact remains that they’re still quite enjoyable regardless of the caliber of filmmaking. Besides, fun is usually what the movie business is supposed to be about, so it’s time to pay tribute to some of Swayze’s finer work.
While not his debut movie, many folks will probably recall first learning of Swayze in director Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, about troubled kids growing up in 1960s Oklahoma. Swayze played the older brother and guardian, Darrel Curtis, to Rob Lowe (Sodapop) and the film’s lead C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy), where he dominated in the film’s big rumble scene. Many critics pan the film for being overly simplistic and stylized, but talk to anyone under the age of thirty-five these days and they’ll most likely have fond memories of the coming-of-age film, especially those who ever felt… well, like an outsider. Additionally, this movie pretty much helped launch the careers of a ton of stars including Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon and others. Look for a cameo from Hinton as a nurse.
From there, Patrick went on to the underrated Uncommon Valor, as a foul-mouthed member of Gene Hackman’s elite team of Vietnam vets training to go back into Laos and rescue Hackman’s son who is a POW. About midway through the film, Swayze gets out of hand and has to be smacked around by Philadelphia’s own Randall “Tex” Cobb in an enjoyable fight scene. However, the military film that Swayze will most be remembered for is, of course, Red Dawn. Russians invade the U.S. during the outset of World War III, and it’s up to Swayze to lead a group of teens known as the Wolverines—that included his future Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey—against the enemy after their Colorado high school is besieged and they escape into the mountains. Again, detractors dismiss the film as being either just plain silly, or too politically heavy-handed in the midst of the Cold War, but taken simply as a fictional “what if?” dystopian future, it’s nearly impossible to not scream, “Wolverines,” along with the well-intentioned and capable cast.
Next came Youngblood, and while Movie Fanfare readers may already be slightly aware of my love for this film, it’s admittedly not an exercise in award-winning production, with plenty of unintentionally laughable moments. However, it’s one of the few movies about ice hockey that at least makes an attempt to be serious that fans can cling to, instead of suffering through MVP: Most Valuable Primate. Besides, Swayze is solid as tough Mustangs captain, Derek Sutton (great hockey name), who needs to be avenged by phenom Dean Youngblood (Rob Lowe).
Most film buffs probably won’t even remember Steel Dawn (no longer available on video), which is actually the first movie Swayze did after Dirty Dancing. It’s notable because it was an odd choice of roles for the fleet-footed actor to take after his sleeper hit, but it did give him the opportunity to play alongside his wife, Lisa Niemi. Swayze is a nomadic, sword-wielding kung fu master (aptly named, Nomad) wandering the desert in a post-apocalyptic wasteland until he comes upon Niemi and a group of settlers trying to create a water-filtration system to protect the precious resource against an evil tyrant. Of course, Swayze must then protect them from the bad guys. The film is widely reviled, and the late Gene Siskel even humorously said, “Don’t get suckered into this trash.” However, martial arts fans will find the fight sequences satisfying, and it does serve credence to Swayze as legitimate action star.
Then the big one was unveiled upon the world. Road House is an immensely popular movie that repeatedly runs on cable all the time, and it deserves its cult classic status for good reason. While no one will deny some the film’s utter ridiculousness, Road House is pure fun nonetheless. Where else can one soak in such an enjoyable dose of violence, nudity and comedy in less than two hours? Swayze is a wise-beyond-his-years philosophy major with a troubled past who also happens to be skilled in fisticuffs. He’s charged with the duty of cleaning up a backwoods dive bar called the Double Deuce as the head bouncer, and in doing so, runs afoul of the affluent town bully played by Ben Gazzara. Packed with great music (often supplied by The Jeff Healey Band), action and hijinks, the flick is a party from one frame to the next. It features the lauded lines brilliantly delivered by Swayze’s character, Dalton, such as “Pain don’t hurt,” and “I want you to be nice, until it’s time to not be nice,” that are the stuff of film legend. Sam Elliott and Kelly Lynch also provide fine supporting roles, and anyone who says differently may just get their throats ripped out.
From there came Next of Kin, a gritty actioner featuring Swayze as a Chicago detective from Kentucky who must track down the mobsters that killed his brother at the behest of his bumpkinish family. Once again slammed by critics, the release still provides decent sequences and atmosphere, along with a fine supporting cast that includes Liam Neeson, Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, and a very young Ben Stiller.
Point Break would have to serve as another cult classic as far as action films go. Who could forget Patrick as Bodhi, the leader of a band of surfers that rob banks disguised as ex-presidents? Inexperienced detective Keanu Reeves must then go undercover and infiltrate Bodhi’s crew to take them down. Under the fine direction of Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Strange Days), Point Break is pure adrenaline-pumping entertainment all the way through that includes classic lines from Bodhi such as, “I can’t paddle to New Zealand!”
It was after Point Break that Swayze’s career began to take a downturn, but he did manage to revive it in 2001 with a rather unconventional supporting role in the lurid and offbeat Donnie Darko. Swayze plays a strangely overzealous motivational speaker who may not be everything he purports to be. He serves as one of the sparks for Jake Gyllenhaal to find out exactly what’s going on with and around himself. Peppered with stars including Drew Barrymore, and Seth Rogen and Ashley Tisdale in bit parts, Donnie Darko is a mind-bending thrill that warrants multiple viewings, and Swayze really stands out playing against type as an incredibly flawed individual, instead of the tough guy.
Thanks for everything, Patrick, and rest in peace. For some time to come, everyone will surely be watching To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar with a tear in their eye.