Film reviews and more since 2009

Road House (2024) review

Dir. Doug Liman

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

The original Road House defies conventional criticism. It is a self-contained work housing many elements that satisfy on both primal and entertainment levels: it’s a story of a stranger moving to a town controlled by a man who extorts the townspeople, looking to instill some blue collar morality to the community. The outsider might be prone to uncontrollably violent fits of rage, but he’s also an intelligent and gentle soul, capable of wooing a local girl and saving the community from the goons who terrorize a popular gin-mill and the same man who is ruling the land with only his best interest in mind.

Now we have Doug Liman’s Road House, a remake of the Patrick Swayze-led (cult) classic, which remains one of the most-aired/watched movies on cable television. It’s a snowball’s chance in hell this will bear even a fourth of the impact of the original, yes, but as far as remakes are concerned, Liman’s film makes satisfying updates to the story. It also features two compelling performances along with an anarchic spirit that feels like the amalgamation of the later Fast and Furious movies and the Grand Theft Auto video games.

Jake Gyllenhaal assumes the role of Dalton, a former UFC middleweight fighter who accepts an offer to move to the Florida Keys to work as a bouncer at a picturesque beach bar called “The Road House.” The bar is owned by Frankie (Jessica Williams), who inherited it from her late uncle. Since she became owner, the bar has been overrun by biker gangs and other rabble-rousers, with Dalton tasked with bringing civility to the establishment, albeit with a fisticuffs approach.

Dalton’s first encounter with the biker gang, led by a man named Dell (JD Pardo), ends with him escorting the group of four-or-five men outside, inquiring how far the nearest hospital is from the roadhouse (about 25 minutes), subsequently beating the men to a bloody pulp, and then transporting them to the hospital himself. After a rocky opening sequence — which begins with Post Malone as a UFC fighter refusing to fight Dalton as soon as he enters the ring, and then has Dalton meeting the young operator of a Florida bookstore (Hannah Lanier) — this is where Road House starts to find its footing.

This “Glass Key” enclave of the Florida Keys is controlled by a smarmy career criminal named Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen, who chews the scenery like gum). Brandt has the sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida, Missing) in his back-pocket, and spends most of his time on his yacht, ordering his servants around and dispatching his gang to put a hurtin’ on Dalton. When the bikers prove ill-equipped to handle the former fighter, Brandt calls in his psychopathic friend Knox (UFC champion Conor McGregor in his acting debut). Knox lands in the Keys just as Dalton’s relationship with a local doctor (Daniela Melchior) starts to intensify.

Gyllenhaal can bring a certain prestige to everything from an unnecessary remake of a 80s movie to a Calvin Klein commercial. His aloof attitude and pensive stares effectively humanize Dalton as a more-than-meets-the-eye drifter. Gyllenhaal’s version of the character is similar to his performance of Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler insofar that Dalton is always watching, waiting for something to happen. He elevates a movie that occasionally succumbs to insipid dialog — at one point, Lanier’s character remarks about how Dalton’s story of coming to the Florida Keys to save a roadhouse “sounds like a Western” — and some gratuitously phony violence, thanks to some rough CGI.

The real scene-stealer is Conor McGregor, who brings the same level of nasty, remorseless behavior that he brought to the octagon. The introduction of McGregor’s Knox sets the mood right away. He’s standing in the middle of a town-square in Italy, completely naked, setting fire to everything. It’s an over-the-top sequence, and McGregor matches the energy by naturally being over-the-top himself. When Knox lands in the Keys, he’s instantly combative, steely-eyed, violent, and cruel. Not without charm, however. McGregor has been the villain his entire career, and just like NBA player Anthony Edwards brought his on-court personality to the Adam Sandler film Hustle, the accomplished fighter brings that same incendiary passion to Road House.

While the sunny coast of Florida provides a delightful, Grand Theft Auto-esque backdrop for the film, the fight choreography is admittedly weak. Liman’s direction often attempts to disguise the artificial blows, and the punches pack such vicious sound effects as if they’re engineered to make you blink so you don’t notice they’re not landing. Fighting is imbued in Road House‘s story and spirit, so to have it be one of the shoddier elements of this remake is disappointing.

Road House might’ve been better if the premise had been reworked just enough not to be a remake, but its own standalone entity. While it features more memorable performances, it lacks the rugged, blue collar charm of the original (that’s what happens when your average career bouncer becomes a tormented UFC fighter).

Removing this story from the Midwest was an interesting creative decision too. Living in the heartland of the country myself, facing both extremes of the weather, sometimes in the span of 24 hours, is enough to make us angry even while enjoying a couple frosty cold-ones. I’d have a difficult time being so angry and vengeful if I were sipping mojitos at a bar in the Keys with Bahamian singers livening the mood.

NOTE: Road House is now streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

My review of Road House (1989)

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Billy Magnussen, Jessica Williams, Conor McGregor, Hannah Lanier, Joaquim de Almeida, JD Pardo, and Austin Post. Directed by: Doug Liman.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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