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JUSTIFYING THE WORK OF PATRICK SWAYZE
by Noel Wood
I don't have any idea why my memory was just jogged regading this subject, but it's one that created mounds of controversy last year when it was first brought up. Maybe i's the fact that I just saw a preview for NEXT OF KIN on the Superstation. Or maybe it's because it's Saturday Night and I'm sitting at home. Either way, something has put the body of work amassed by actor/producer/choreographer Patrick Swayze fresh in my head and it's time to write about it.
First off, a little mini-biography for those who may not be aware of the Swayze legend, directly ripped off from the Internet Movie Database: "Mother was choreographer Patsy Swayze. His education included the Harkness Ballet School, the Joffrey Ballet School, and San Jacinto College. He first performed as a dancer in Disney on Parade. After playing in the Broadway production of "Grease", he made his film debut as Ace in "Skatetown, USA". (1979). Eight years later, after considerable movie and television work, including choreography for "Grandview, USA" (1984), he received a Golden Globe nomination for his role as the dance instructor Johnny Castle in the steamy musical-drama "Dirty Dancing". He received a second nomination for his portrayal of the ghost Sam Wheat in the boxoffice/video success "Ghost" (1990). He has been a solidly established box office star throughout the nineties."
I don't remember exactly what the original basis for the argument was, but I think it all started with a viewing of THE MATRIX one evening. I remember saying to a couple of friends that I enjoyed it in a way, and they said they were avoiding it because of that Keanu dude. Now I know as well as the next guy that Keanu is about the level of actor that Larry Flynt is a dancer, but that's beside the point. Keanu has done a lot of cool movies, like it or not. From early stuff like RIVER'S EDGE, to fantastic small roles in classics like PARENTHOOD and I LOVE YOU TO DEATH, to comic leading turns in the BILL AND TED series, his action roots in SPEED, and even in his breakout artsy roles in such films as MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, Keanu has got a pretty good body of work under his belt. So while spouting off reasons why Keanu does not a bad movie make, somewhere POINT BREAK slipped out.
The initial reaction from my friends was enough to make you think I'd just admitted to murdering their parents. First a look of shock, then the paleness in their faces, to the uttering of the now-famous words: "You actually LIKED a Patrick Swayze movie?"
And you know something? I did. POINT BREAK was a pretty cool little action movie. It wasn't epic filmmaking, it wasn't threatening the other films of that year for a Best Picture nomination, but it was decent. Kathryn Bigelow did a pretty good job helming it (and we know she could kick all of our asses) and James Cameron was the Executive Producer (back in the day when it was okay to still think he was cool). Bigelow is also responsible for the cool apocalyptic cyberthriller STRANGE DAYS and the much-recommended NEAR DARK (which I've never seen but should someday.) There were some pretty cool stunts and neat action sequences in it. Or at least what I remember. It's been eight years since I saw it, so I don't know how well it would hold up now. But I digress. It's still got to be more fun to sit through than some of the piddle that Juliette Binoche has been in that's been up for Best Picture in the last few years.
Of course, my friends' retort was that Patrick Swayze was not capable of being in a good movie. Now I'm not exactly a fan of Swayze. I don't even like the guy. But for some reason, I found myself hopelessly - and shamelessly - defending the art of Swayze. And I still don't remember what was in it for ME to actually win this argument with my friends.
I feverishly tried to defend myself, or you know who, whatever the case may be, by pointing out half-assed attempts at thespianship by one Patrick Wayne Swayze. I reached as I tried to cite examples of cinematic goodness from Swayze. Hey, GHOST was a pretty good movie, right? I mean, it was a chick movie and all but it was cool when they showed him walking through people and seeing their guts and stuff. And the part where he learned how to focus his power and contact the physical world was enjoyable.
Yet nothing about GHOST justified Swayze in it.
And what about THE OUTSIDERS? I mean, it was a great book and the movie was Coppola BEFORE he became a complete joke. And Tom Cruise and Matt Dillon were good in it...
But Patrick only had a bit part.
Or ROAD HOUSE! There were some cool bar fights in it if I recall correctly, a lot of hot chicks in strip joints, and it had appearances by hardcore wrestling legend Terry Funk and the Jeff Healey Band!
Defending that one almost got me beat up.
And what about RED DAWN? Or STEEL DAWN? Or Tony Orlando and Dawn?
Not even a chance.
This even went further. Thanks to the advent of electronic mail, everyone I knew soon had heard about my blind faith in Swayzeism. I had some people even offering a weak branch of assistance, defending such fare as the NORTH AND SOUTH miniseries and CITY OF JOY, which is apparently critically acclaimed but nobody on the fucking planet has seen it. But it was all for naught.
I was whipped. And I don't even know why I was defending the work of Patrick Swayze. Somehow, in a roundabout way, it was relating back to THE MATRIX. No, I know that he stepped nowhere near the set of the Wachowski brother's Hong Kong-esque sci-fi flick, but somehow, someway, in the back of my mind, he related. Perhaps in the state I was in that night they could have had me justifying the work of Joel Schumacher. Seriously. A chain of events could have easily set it up.
Me: Man, you gotta see THE MATRIX. Way better than I expected.
Them: No way! It had Keanu Reeves in it! He sucks ass!
Me: Well, he's not great, but he's done some cool stuff. Like POINT BREAK.
Them: You mean with Patrick Swayze? No movie with Patrick Swayze will ever be good!
Me: Aw, come on. What about the OUTSIDERS? I mean, it was a small role, but it was a good movie with Patrick Swayze.
Them: Yeah, directed by that past-his-prime hack Francis Coppola?
Me: What's wrong with Coppola? I mean, yeah, he did JACK, but he also did THE CONVERSATION and THE GODFATHER. His whole family's talented. Talia Shire, Jason Schwartzmann, Nicolas Cage...
Them: Nicolas Cage? Ugh. He sucks now. He was in that Joel Schumacher abomination 8MM!
Me: Ah, Schumacher isn't that bad, I mean he did...uhh, I mean, he...well, he...he...HE RUINED BATMAN, THAT TALENTLESS COCKSUCKER!
Okay, maybe there's nothing that could make me defend Joel Schumacher.
In fact, you bring his name anywhere near this piece and suddenly the sound of Patrick Swayze doesn't sound so bad. There it is. Maybe I did it after all. I defended Patrick Swayze by mentioning Joel Schumacher. Who said it couldn't be done?
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