HomeReviews‘Road House’ Review: This Remake Has No Business Being This Good

‘Road House’ Review: This Remake Has No Business Being This Good


About five minutes into the new remake of Road House, its hero comes close to killing himself by deliberately parking his car on some train tracks as a locomotive comes barreling through an intersection. At the last minute he changes his mind. The hero survives by the thinnest of margins; so thin, in fact, that the back of his beater gets clipped and totaled by the train.

There may be a metaphor in there somewhere. A remake of Road Houseany remake of Road House — should be a train wreck. If I had been asked “What’s the best way to remake Road House?” a few years ago, my response would have been “To not even attempt such a ludicrous idea.”

The original Road House is one of the strangest films ever made by a mainstream Hollywood studio. It could only have been produced in the 1980s, and it only works (“works”) as a silly, bizarre, painfully earnest relic of a bygone era where bouncers were treated like the world’s biggest celebrities, and people were so desperate for a place to drink that they would willingly go to the most dangerous bar on the planet, night after night, knowing full well they might be stabbed just to get a shot of whisky. (I should note that everything I know about the 1980s I learned from watching Road House. If this is inaccurate, I apologize.)

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This is a movie where Patrick Swayze propensity towards ripping dudes’ throats out is treated as both tragic backstory and running subplot, and where a man getting squished by a falling polar bear barely makes the list of the craziest onscreen moments. How do you remake that?

Improbably, the creators of the new Road House, which is going straight to streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video, pulled it off. Their creation is close enough to the broad strokes of the old movie to earn its title, yet different enough that fans of the original may be surprised by some of its twists of plot and character.

The central figure is once again a preternaturally gifted bouncer named Dalton, who gets hired to clean up a notoriously rowdy bar. While the original Road House from 1989 never revealed the origin of Dalton’s amazing combat skills (or why he only uses them to throw drunks out of rock clubs) the remake explains both. Its Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) used to be an elite UFC fighter, until a bad choice in the Octagon set him on the path to where director Doug Liman finds him at the start of his Road House — namely at rock bottom, where he contemplates becoming extremely familiar with an oncoming train.

When Dalton decides he’s not ready to die, he reluctantly accepts a gig from Frankie (Jessica Williams) cleaning up the riff raff at her tavern in the Florida Keys, which is cleverly named “The Road House.” Beating up drunks is easy for Dalton; navigating local Florida politics as a result becomes significantly trickier.

It turns out many of the Road House’s most unruly customers drink there at the behest of Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), the son of a shady local businessman who is currently in prison. Ben wants to get out from under his father’s shadow by carving out a quasi-legal empire of his own in the Keys, but the Road House presents a roadblock to his plans. Dalton’s arrival messes with Ben’s schemes, and when the town’s new roughneck refuses to be intimidated, an equally imposing brute named Knox (MMA star Conor McGregor) gets summoned to take him down.

McGregor makes a big impression in his feature debut. Combining the charisma that made him UFC’s biggest attraction with a palpable sense of unhinged mania, he becomes a far more intimidating figure than anyone in the original Road House. (That movie’s main villain was played by 59-year-old Ben Gazzara.) If McGregor ever tires of getting hit in the head for money he could have a very lucrative second career playing movie heavies.

It’s hard to talk about what makes Gyllenhaal’s Dalton so fun to watch without spoiling some of Road House’s surprises. While the script by Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry mirrors the original in a lot of ways — and of its writers, David Lee Henry, is co-credited with the new movie’s story — it often subverts viewers’ expectations in very pleasant ways. As it gradually shifts away from the original Road House’s story beats, it began to remind me less and less of the 1989 movie and more and more of the books by crime novelist Elmore Leonard. Nobody was better than Leonard at this sort of darkly comic thriller set in a morally gray universe. (Leonard also set some of his best books, including Get Shorty and Rum Punch, in South Florida.)

The new movie is not light on action; the very first image of the film is a POV shot of a fighter throwing a punch. Many more fight sequences follow; some of them viscerally choreographed, and a few a bit too cleverly knitted together with a lot of flashy digitally-enhanced long takes. But 2024’s Road House also knows how to pace itself, and to let the audience soak in that seedy South Florida atmosphere. Gyllenhaal’s Dalton enjoys several prickly scenes with a local doctor (Daniel Melchior), and he also flexes his laconic charm in a subplot involving a curious tween (Hannah Love Lanier) who works in her father’s ramshackle bookstore.

Gyllenhaal’s Dalton becomes an accidental gumshoe as he tries to piece together why his presence so disturbs Ben Brandt. In a meta sense, his attempts to get to the bottom of this mystery are also an attempt to get to the bottom of Swayze’s Road House. That film makes absolutely no sense — Did I mention that Swayze’s Dalton was also an NYU philosophy major grad who could sew up his own knife wounds? — and yet it adheres so consistently to its own impossible internal logic that it accrues a kind of spiritual purity that is hard to dislike.

The new film tries to figure out a way to justify many of Road House’s inexplicable quirks. Relocating the action from rural Missouri to the Sunshine State certainly doesn’t hurt; a lot of the comically unhinged patrons’ behavior can now be chalked up to a massive case of Florida Man Syndrome. Still, the new Road House never gets too bogged down with rationalizing or defending itself; it understands the premise’s core appeal (i.e. it’s fun) and succeeds in recapturing it, even if it goes about it in somewhat different fashion.

Road House became a cult classic because it was fun to watch on cable. None of it was hard to understand — or at least none of it made any less sense — if you flipped to it halfway through. No matter where you started or stopped watching it, you were guaranteed to see some thrills, some violence, some sex appeal, and probably a couple laughs, intentional or otherwise.

While the cable TV movie ecosystem seems to be going extinct, the new Road House would have thrived in it as well. This is the kind of consistently entertaining movie you could happily watch 100 times without ever actively intending to watch it twice. By its conclusion, it accumulates the atmosphere of a great bar; a place you go less to get drunk than to soak in the vibes of the music and the regulars. It is so much better than it has any right to be.

RATING: 7/10

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Gallery Credit: Claire Epting

Content Source: screencrush.com


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