When a musician dies, sales of their albums experience an immediate “death bump.” If the bump proves especially lucrative, then the necromancers are called in to coax new music out of the dear departed from beyond the grave. Remix albums, greatest hits collections, basement tapes, random conversations filtered through auto-tune and set to Swedish beats: There are always new ways to make money off dead musicians.
Right now, Patrick Swayze is experiencing something like a “death bump.” Swayze died of pancreatic cancer almost exactly two years ago, but in just the last month, three of his most iconic projects have been rejuvenated. Kenny Ortega has taken the reins of a Dirty Dancing remake; the Ghost musical is coming to Broadway after a successful run in London; and yesterday came the announcement that Alcon Entertainment will craft a remake of Point Break, the film which cemented Swayze’s Blond-Jesus persona for a generation of filmgoers. Throw in the long-delayed Red Dawn remake, which is surely going to be released any year now, and you’ve got a veritable smorgasboard of reheated Swayze-dom coming our way. What gives?
You could argue that this is just a coincidence — that the sudden resurgence in Swayze cinema is just a reflection of the actor’s ability to hop between genres. Dirty Dancing is miles away from Red Dawn; his lovable dead guy in Ghost seems to come from a different universe than his hippie-messiah bank robber in Point Break. Swayze always had more range than people gave him credit for — remember his drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar? — and you could argue that the Swayze boom just reflects Hollywood’s frantic attempts to recook stuff people loved between 1983 and 1995. (At this point, I’m surprised Father Hood hasn’t been remade as a network dramedy.)
But I suspect that Hollywood is just reacting to something that’s been circulating through culture for awhile now. Even before Swayze’s untimely passing, he had already re-emerged as a kind of nostalgia god. Much of his cult status derives from two films in particular: Road House, a terrible film elevated into something beautifully hilarious by Swayze’s fully committed lead performance, and Point Break, a film that looks smarter, funnier, and more self-aware of its own ridiculousness with every passing year. (You may have noticed that the EW offices are filled with Point Break obsessives: See here and here.)
So if Hollywood is just reacting to us, then the question becomes: Why are we so obsessed with Patrick Swayze? I think it’s because Swayze represents an almost perfect midpoint between the invincible ’80s action stars and the modern trend for Peter Parker/Jason Bourne-style troubled protagonists. In most of his best performances, Swayze had an aura of invulnerability that only derived from a kind of inner frailty. Michael De Luca, who’s producing the Point Break remake, called the original movie “a Zen meditation on testosterone fueled action,” and that’s pretty much the essence of Swayze: He looks positively meditative even in the midst of a gunfight. (The only modern actor I can think of who even comes close to this persona is Ryan Gosling, and he’s way more self-aware than Swayze was.)
Of course, none of these new movies will actually star Swayze… so they might not be as good. It’s left to us to imagine the kind of career second-act Swayze might have had in this post-Expendables era of second-act cinema. Wouldn’t you have loved to see him and Keanu Reeves reunite onscreen? Couldn’t a meta-auteur like Edgar Wright or Quentin Tarantino have worked wonders with Swayze as an aging speak-softly badass? It’s a tragedy that all we have to look forward to are remakes. At least we’ll always have the Double Deuce.
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