Road House (2024, dir. Doug Liman)

by | Mar 25, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 121 mins

UK Distributor: Prime Video

UK Release Date: 21 March 2024


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WHO’S IN ROAD HOUSE?

Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Billy Magnussen, Jessica Williams, Joaquim de Almeida, Austin Post, Conor McGregor, Lukas Gage, Darren Barnet, J.D. Pardo, Arturo Castro, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Hannah Love Lanier, Travis Van Winkle, B. K. Cannon, Dominique Columbus, Beau Knapp, Bob Menery, Kevin Carroll, Jay Hieron

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Doug Liman (director), Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry (writers), Joel Silver (producer), Christophe Beck (composer), Henry Braham (cinematographer), Doc Crotzer (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A former UFC fighter (Gyllenhaal) takes a new job as a bouncer at a Florida roadhouse…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON ROAD HOUSE?

While it’s true that the 1989 action film Road House is considered a cult classic among some audiences, let’s be fully honest with ourselves: it was never a great movie to begin with. Sure, it’s entertaining as hell with plenty of over-the-top action, not to mention an opportunity for Patrick Swayze to bring his A-list leading man charisma to a role that any other 80s action star could play in their sleep, but the only reason it’s stayed so long in audiences’ memories (other than that title-dropping gag on Family Guy) is because of its dumb nature that defies explanation, to where it’s often labelled a “so bad, it’s good” movie.

Props to director Doug Liman, then, for recognising that when he decided to update Road House for a new generation. The filmmaker seems to know fully that the original film is mindless and nonsensical, so there’s no false pretences about his remake, which seeks to replicate that level of silliness on extreme, and often ludicrous, new levels. It just about makes for an entertaining and lively action movie that’s certainly trashy, as well as impossibly brawny, but rarely dull.

The film reimagines the Swayze character as Elwood Dalton (now played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a former UFC middleweight fighter who is approached one evening by Frankie (Jessica Williams), the owner of a roadhouse situated in the Florida Keys. She’s in dire need of a new bouncer who can sort out the various ruffians who often cause all sorts of trouble at the open bar, and both his ferocious fighting skills and strangely calming manner make him a prime candidate for the job. Shortly after Dalton makes a name for himself within the tightknit community, and also starts a fling with local doctor Ellie (Daniela Melchior), he is targeted by biker gangs, corrupt cops and, most prominently, a psychotic scumbag with a nasty penchant for violence… and the character that Conor McGregor plays is pretty bad, too. They’re all working for Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), the wealthy son of a crooked influential figure in the Keys, who’s now set his sights on the Road House – and yes, that’s actually what the roadhouse is called in this version – in order to demolish it and develop a new resort, and sees Dalton as the one thorn in his plan.

Like the original, this is not an especially smart or sensical movie. It’s the kind of film where just about anything can happen at a moment’s notice, like bar fights that are started over the most insignificant of disagreements, or one of the villains strutting around completely naked in the middle of an Italian market, many of them without context or even build-up. The dialogue is certainly colourful, though it is littered with goading one-liners that you’d expect to hear at a WWE championship event, and its attempts to factor in some symbolism (something about a lone tree that’s grown in the middle of an abandoned bridge) can be funnier than most of the intentional laughs. You can poke all sorts of holes in the plot from all angles, including the lack of logic behind the main villain’s plan to drive away business from the titular Road House, while most of the side characters aren’t particularly memorable, to where some will suddenly show up after a period off-screen and you’ll have forgotten that they were even part of the film to begin with.

The script, a joint effort by writers Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry, revels in its own stupidity, and to a point it feels like that was exactly what director Doug Liman wanted his film to be. After all, the original Road House is famously a pretty dumb movie, and this version knows its limits well enough to not try and distance itself from that level of trashiness. There are times when Liman’s Road House comes across like it is supposed to be more of a rowdy comedy than its (slightly more) straight-laced predecessor, one that comes complete with wit-laced banter and humorous moments of physical endurance, which does help to set it apart from the original and feel like its own product, without relying all that much on nostalgia for that 1989 film. Liman also extends that knowing bombastic nature to his action scenes, some of which can be hindered by some pretty bad CGI, but other times feature some fierce fight choreography that emphasise the muscular brawn of its central heroes and villains with some hyper-stylised camerawork, almost as though the director is approaching it like he’s Michael Bay trying to replicate Guy Ritchie (which would be surprisingly apt, given that Jake Gyllenhaal has worked for both directors on fairly recent projects).

Speaking of Gyllenhaal, the actor brings a very cool and charismatic presence to his character, where you definitely feel like this guy is capable of cold-blooded murder at any particular moment, albeit with polite mannerisms that do get a decent chuckle every so often. It’s a very different approach to Patrick Swayze’s smoother take on Dalton, who here feels more like a Jack Reacher type who’s prone to a few good quips once in a while, and it’s down to Gyllenhaal to give this interpretation all the charm it could possibly need. On the complete flipside, Conor McGregor – making his acting debut in this film – is really quite bad in this. Granted, the dual boxing and MMA champion isn’t neither a trained nor professional actor, but the majority of his performance is him endlessly grimacing and strutting about like he’s constipated, and it makes the character more obnoxious than genuinely threatening. His dialogue deliveries are also rather awkward, as he often puts too much emphasis on the wrong words and speaks with an irritating high pitch as though he’s a leprechaun trying to act all tough after one too many pints of Guinness. The likes of Gyllenhaal and Billy Magnussen easily act circles around this guy, almost to where you feel a bit sorry for these actors for having to perform opposite someone who’s just not giving them anything to work with.

While the film is certainly dumb and trashy, it would have been less successful if it was neither of those things. It embraces the cheesy 80s action persona of the original, while also pumping it full of steroids that give it plenty of muscle, but few extra brain cells – and that is all you could ever ask for from a Road House remake.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Road House is an entertaining action remake of the 1989 original, which replicates that film’s dumb and over-the-top spirit with extra brawn that doesn’t make it smarter, but keeps it at a consistently mindless piece of trash that’s fun to watch.

Three out of five stars

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