Road House

Director: Doug Liman
Screenplay: Anthony Bagarozzi & Charles Mondry (story by Anthony Bagarozzi & Charles Mondry and David Lee Henry; based on the motion picture screenplay Road House by David Lee Henry andHilary Henkin)
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal (Dalton), Daniela Melchior (Ellie), Conor McGregor (Knox), Billy Magnussen (Ben Brandt), Jessica Williams (Frankie), B.K. Cannon (Laura), Joaquim de Almeida (Sheriff), Post Malone (Carter), Lukas Gage (Billy), Dominique Columbus (Reef), Arturo Castro (Moe), JD Pardo (Dell), Beau Knapp (Vince), Hannah Lanier (Charlie), Kevin Carroll (Stephen)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2024
Country: U.S.
Road House
Road House

As long as there are movies, there will be remakes, and no movie is exempt from a future retooling, warranted or otherwise. There have been good remakes and bad ones, needed ones and unnecessary ones. There is nothing inherently wrong with remakes—many notable directors have remade their own films, including Alfred Hitchcock, Yasujiro Ozu, and John Ford, to name a few—although they always bear the weight of comparison with “the original,” which is often erroneously though better simply for having been around longer.

However, of all the lists of potential remakes out there, I doubt there were many that included Road House (1989), Rowdy Herrington’s slapdash, late-’80s celebration of biceps, fisticuffs, and mullets starring Patrick Swayze as a philosophical bouncer trying to clean up a violent honkytonk and battling a local crime lord. Yet, here we are, three and a half decades later, with a beefed-up new version that stays roughly true to the spirit of the original, but with a much sharper, glossier sheen. And, truth be told, there isn’t much to defend, as Road House is every bit the cliché-ridden bag of bloody tricks you would expect it to be. But, I would be lying if I didn’t have a guilty-pleasure good time watching Jake Gyllenhaal step into Swayze’s muscular shoes and beat down on some sneering bad guys who were just asking for it.

Screenwriters Anthony Bagarozzi (The Nice Guys) and Charles Mondry relocate the story from the Midwest to the Florida Keys, which immediately gives the new film a brighter look and more exciting postcard scenery. The rough contours of the story are the same, as Frankie (Jessica Williams), the owner of a seaside saloon located just off a small highway, recruits a mysterious fighter named Dalton (Gyllenhaal) to help tame the more violent elements that are cutting into her business. Unlike the original, where Dalton is already working as a bouncer, here he is making money in underground fights and living out of his car (his checkered, ultimately tragic history as a UFC champion is carefully parceled out over the course of the film). We know immediately that Dalton is hard, strong, and has a death wish, even though he remains preternaturally calm in even the most dangerous of circumstances—which is, of course, part of the grand fantasy. Characters like Dalton are the alpha males of the rugged American imaginary: impossibly skilled, strong, and collected, so that when he calmly tells a seemingly vicious adversary that he is going to lose, it comes as no surprise when he breaks a number of his bones (the amusing joke comes when Dalton drives all the guys he just beat to a pulp to the hospital).

Dalton’s job protecting Frankie’s bar is increasingly difficult because the violence isn’t random, but rather a coordinated effort organized by Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), an insufferable rich-kid heir to his imprisoned crime lord father’s wealth. Ben wants to build a huge new development along the water, and Frankie’s bar is in the way, so he figures if he sends enough goons in there night after night to cause trouble, she will relent and sell. It’s an ancient story about the brute strength and amorality of big greed running headlong into the resilience of the small business owner, and it works here just like it has worked in countless Westerns. It is so fundamentally American that it makes sense that Dalton’s primary nemesis is a hulking, bearded warrior-for-hire named Knox (mixed-martial-artist Conor McGregor in his film debut) who hails from Ireland. Knox’s relentlessness and indestructibility becomes a running joke, and his various smackdowns with Dalton offer a thunderous rush of ridiculous bare-knuckle violence. There is some romance, too, as Dalton draws the eyes of Ellie ( Daniela Melchior), a local doctor who at first mistakes him for just another violent roughneck. But, let’s face it: If you’re here, you’re here for the fighting, and there is plenty of it.

Director Doug Liman has been working almost exclusively in the realm of action movies since making his mark in the late 1990s with the indie comedies Swingers (1996) and Go (1999). His breakthrough into new genre territory was The Bourne Identity (2002), although the Matt Damon-anchored series quickly became the province of director Paul Greengrass, who made it his own. Liman has since made high-concept action movies like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and American Made (2017), all of which are discernibly his because of the knowing humor and style he injects into the chaos, which is why his stark, scaled-down Iraq war thriller The Wall (2017) felt like an outlier. In many ways, Road House is a “bad” movie with little ambition other than to outdo its predecessor, but there is some sense of integrity in its direct approach to the material, and you can’t help but enjoy watching Jake Gyllenhaal play the role of the steely, contrived, reluctant hero. I don’t know if Bogart would be proud, but he would surely be impressed by his abs.

Copyright © 2024 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (3)

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