Be Nice: Remembering Patrick Swayze The Action Hero
As the two year anniversary of the death of Patrick Swayze nears, it’s appropriate to mourn, but more appropriate to celebrate.
How many humans have been able to parlay an ability to send shrieks of delight through teen and pre-teen girls in the 1980’s, into status as an unlikely hip-hop icon, referenced in song by everyone from EPMD to Method Man and the Notorious B.I.G. to the Lonely Island? Only one man, and his name was Swayze. We are lucky to have breathed the same air that he did.
The battle for the legacy of Swayze rages on – is he a becoiffed ladies’ man singing about how “She’s Like The Wind” and doing phantom-pottery with Demi Moore for eternity? Or is he an action hero who can sound impossibly bad-ass while imploring gigantic men to “be nice”; who can throw a pit bull at Keanu Reeves while wearing a tuxedo and a rubber Ronald Reagan mask during one of American cinema’s finest chase scenes, and still leave a sad Keanu unable to shoot at him because he loves him too much to do it; who can unite a group of ragtag teenagers until they’re an elite fighting force called the Wolverine, capable of nearly overthrowing communism itself? Who is Patrick Swayze?
Movies don’t have to be particularly good to be classics, and Swayze’s choices – to be both a hearthrob and a hero – endeared him to an audience that didn’t care about some measure of objective greatness.
This weekend, the Paramount Theater made their declaration: He’s an action hero, duh, and one whose flaws only serve to make him more perfect. With a double-header of Road Houseand Red Dawn playing at the Paramount this past Saturday, the glory of Swayze-the-man-of-action was in full effect.
But what’s most compelling about him as an action star is that he had the sensitive side that his compatriots lacked.
The people who thrilled to his adventures in Red Dawn were not the same people who were excited to see him re-team with his co-star, Jennifer Gray, three years later in Dirty Dancing. The people who bought the 1991 issue of People that declared him the Sexiest Man Alive were not the ones who lined up for his performance in Point Break. But his ability to inhabit the space in between those two personas is what made Patrick Swayze such a beloved star, and his movies – which were never perfect, but remain endlessly rewatchable – so much fun.
The Paramount’s Summer Classics Film Series has long been a place to catch a screening of Lawrence Of Arabia or any of Stanley Kubrick’s ouvre in the cinema; even modern classics like The Big Lebowski or Aliens have enjoyed a second life on the theater’s screen.
But by adding the Swayze-fest to its lineup this year, the Paramount affirmed something that anybody who loves movies is well aware of: Movies don’t have to be particularly good to be classics, and Swayze’s choices – to be both a hearthrob and a hero – endeared him to an audience that didn’t care about some measure of objective greatness. Yeah, there was snickering during the cornier parts of Red Dawn, but there was sincere cheering, too, the first time the “Wolverines!” battle cry rang out. The legacy of Swayze, more than being about the man as an action hero or a hearthrob, is that of a guy that it was really easy to root for.
So while the Paramount rightly paid tribute to the dude-ly side of the Swayz, with karate kicks and heavy artillery, the truth is he’s more than the sum of his roles. He was a star who could make good movies or bad movies, action movies or romances, art films or blockbusters, and be loved for it regardless. Here’s hoping every summer at the Paramount features a very Swayze weekend.