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'Road House' Review

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March 20, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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Remaking Road House for modern times doesn't sound like a good idea on paper, with immediate expectations slotting it next to the other misplaced-in-time remakes of Ghost in the Shell and Baywatch. There wasn’t exactly a compelling story to the 1989 original, just Patrick Swayze delivering cans of whoop ass on greasy goons with his black belt in karate. And for a film that made less money than you would think, its cultural footprint has persevered throughout the decades thanks to the funny title, cheesy concept, and, for kids closer to my generation, the frequent Family Guy parodies.

Even with the setting being transplanted to the modern day, Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) is still a man stuck in the past. He has no phone, a clunker of a car, and simply drifts from town to town scraping by through low-end cage fights. For him, it’s harder to fight the rage inside than any opponent. He’s calm and composed, but there’s always a twinge of insanity ready to let loose. “You don’t want to know me” and “I’m not afraid of him, I’m afraid of what I’ll do,” he says a few times, with brief snapshots of his UFC past (all shot at an actual UFC event) explaining how he fell so far.

Like the idea of remaking the film itself, the casting of Gyllenhaal to take over from Swayze is an odd choice. He’s an actor not exactly known for being relaxed, as evidenced by his previous work in Okja, Nightcrawler, and Velvet Buzzsaw. It’s perhaps a case of the chicken or the egg, with Gyllenhaal being a great piece of casting for this newer take on the character, or his involvement changing the tone. Either way, it works out, with Gyllenhaal’s grounded approach never taking away from the fun. Plus, he’s already had fighting experience with Southpaw, so the producers probably saved a nice chunk of change on training costs.

Dalton is hired by Frankie (Jessica Williams) to be the bouncer/enforcer of her family bar called The Road House, just one of several hit-or-miss attempts at some tongue-in-cheek humor by writers Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry. It’s located on a beautiful beach in Florida, with the only problem being the infestation of bikers and roid ragers. It’s nothing Dalton can’t handle, with his laissez-faire attitude towards kicking the crap out of someone almost making it more disrespectful. None of these guys were worth his time, which leads him up the food chain toward the head of the richest crime family in the area, Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen). He’s got some dastardly plan and needs the bar taken out of commission by any means necessary, including kidnapping, murder, and explosions.

The further the plot progresses, the less fun Road House becomes. It’s a bit of a bummer that the first fight where Dalton dismantles five bikers singlehandedly is by far the film’s best-set piece. Even if they are cartoonishly punchable, there is plenty of guilty pleasure in seeing some hooligans get their comeuppance. However, you can’t exactly fill a two-hour movie with your hero facing no resistance, so former UFC champion Conor McGregor has to be introduced as a bruising wildcard. McGregor won’t find himself with a lucrative acting career like former fighters Dwayne Johnson and Dave Bautista, but he fills his wildcard role enough here to be entertaining.

Helming this bare-knuckle brawler is director Doug Liman, who helped revolutionize the action genre in the 2000s with The Bourne Identity and gave Tom Cruise another action vehicle outside of his usual Mission: Impossible films with Edge of Tomorrow. All that prowess quickly goes out the window the longer the fight scenes drag on, with questionable visual effects and camera movements overselling the brutality and undercutting the choreography. Once gasoline explosions and boat jousting get involved, things quickly go all the way overboard.

Still, for as much as its faults are glaringly apparent, there’s nothing offensive about Road House. I guess that’s what you get when you do a remake of a movie that wasn’t that good to begin with and have it released exclusively on Prime Video.

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