Road House review: an unhinged, stupid, and fun remake of an ’80s action classic

Jake Gyllenhaal stands in a parking lot in Road House.

“Jake Gyllenhaal shines in a Road House’remake that is a sloppy but fun time.”

Pros

  • Jake Gyllenhaal’s well-pitched lead performance
  • A satisfying edge of dark humor throughout
  • A few memorable fights

Cons

  • Several superfluous supporting characters
  • A level of technical sloppiness that is, at times, jarring
  • Conor McGregor’s distracting villain turn

On the list of things that nobody asked for, a remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze action movie Road House must rank high. An absurd film about a deadly bouncer hired to oversee a dilapidated roadside bar in Missouri, it’s known by many not for its narrative brilliance or technical artistry but for the startlingly bloody moment when Swayze literally rips the throat out of one of his onscreen foe with his bare hands. A movie that has no right taking itself as seriously as it does, Road House feels like a direct product of the action-film-obsessed decade that was the ’80s and, therefore, is not something that could be convincingly revamped now.

That is, nonetheless, exactly what has happened, thanks to Amazon MGM Studios, Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The latter two have delivered a reimagining of Road House that relies on many of the same elements as its 1989 predecessor, even while updating its story and characters for the modern day. The resulting film is a frequently sturdy, bare-knuckled action romp that is longer and messier than it has any right to be. None of that makes it a bad time. On the contrary, the movie is just as unhinged and downright stupid as a Road House remake should be.

Lukas Gage watches Jake Gyllenhaal break a guy's hand in Road House.
Laura Radford / Prime Video

The new Road House follows Dalton (Gyllenhaal), a former UFC fighter with a notorious reputation in the world’s fighting circles, who makes his debut in the film by winning a money-backed bar brawl simply by showing up. The leisurely way in which Gyllenhaal’s lean, nomadic fighter walks into said bar’s makeshift fighting pit, takes off his hoodie, and starts unlacing his shoes before his would-be opponent, Carter (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Post Malone), inevitably backs out of the fight effectively and humorously establishes the film’s wry, smirking approach to its source material. For all of its mistakes, Road House thankfully doesn’t take itself, its story, or its characters too seriously.

Shortly after conning his way into another easy lump of cash, Dalton is approached by Frankie (an underused Jessica Williams), the owner of a roadside bar in the Florida Keys that has recently become the spot of endless, unsustainably damaging fights. Frankie offers Dalton a well-paying gig as the bar’s bouncer, which he reluctantly accepts only after realizing that he’s still more committed to his life than he’d like to believe. Once he arrives at Frankie’s bar, Dalton quickly finds himself at the center of an undisclosed rivalry between Frankie and Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), the son of a local real estate developer and drug kingpin who wants to use her establishment’s prime beachside location for his own purposes.

Dalton’s First Fight at the Road House | Road House | Prime Video

Plenty of fights between Dalton and Brandt’s men follow, though not as many as some viewers may expect. The film, which boasts a 121-minute runtime, is about 30 minutes longer than it should have been. Despite that, Road House‘s second act repeatedly drags on without enough action to justify its bloated length. That’s partly because the film spends a lot of time on Dalton’s unlikely relationship with Ellie (The Suicide Squad breakout star Daniela Melchior), a prickly nurse who also happens to be the daughter of a local, corrupt cop (Joaquim de Almeida). The storyline feels like a leftover thread from a previous draft of Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry’s script — one that adds little to Road House and falls flat thanks to Melchior and Gyllenhaal’s non-existent chemistry.

Billy Magnussen sits at a bar with Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House.
Laura Radford / Prime Video

Dalton and Ellie’s romance isn’t the only subplot in Road House that tries its audience’s patience. A clichéd friendship between Gyllenhaal’s violent drifter and Charlie (Hannah Lanier) and Stephen (Kevin Carroll), a father and daughter that run a bookstore not far from Frankie’s bar, is so thinly sketched that its purpose is bafflingly unclear right up until the moment when — to the credit of Bagarozzi, Mondry, and Liman — it’s not. Most of Dalton’s scenes with Charlie and Stephen still land with little impact, and that’s due in no small part to the atrocious levels of ADR that were audibly done to patch up several of their conversations.

There’s a general messiness to Road House that is frustrating to grapple with. Williams’ Frankie serves an important role in the film’s plot, yet she’s frequently absent from it because it’s too busy exploring Dalton’s local adventures, most of which only feel tangentially related to his job at her bar. Her absence hurts the film and leaves Williams with little to do. Magnussen, conversely, stands out as a worthy foil to Frankie and Dalton. The actor brings a rich-kid arrogance to his performance that works particular wonders during a bar counter conversation in which he pokes Gyllenhaal’s Dalton for no reason other than to satiate his curiosity.

It’s ultimately Gyllenhaal who anchors Road House, though. The actor is utterly commanding as Dalton, a nice-guy brawler prone to apologizing to his victims even as he’s breaking their bones. He gives a performance here that feels like an endearingly odd cross between his hauntingly vacant turn as Lou Bloom in 2014’s Nightcrawler and his raw, guilt-ridden work as Billy Hope in 2015’s Southpaw. He manages to be a fascinating counter to whoever he appears opposite in Road House, whether he’s sharing the screen with supporting performers like J. D. Pardo, Arturo Castro, or Beau Knapp, all of whom give memorably slimy performances as three of Brandt’s goons, or Conor McGregor, who makes his film acting debut with an atrociously one-note, oversized turn as a maniacal henchman hired by Magnussen’s character’s offscreen father to help his son.

Conor McGregor and Jake Gyllenhaal stare each other down in Road House.
Laura Radford / Prime Video

Gyllenhaal’s confident, often darkly funny lead performance stops Road House from ever devolving into pure slop, as does Liman’s reliably muscular, suitably heightened direction. The director doesn’t get enough chances to stretch his action filmmaking muscles onscreen, but when he does, he produces fist fights, boat chases, and explosive confrontations that ride the line between cartoonish and hard-hitting. The same is mostly true of Road House itself, which doesn’t feel nearly as polished as it should but still emerges as an entertaining bit of IP reimagining. It’s far from a knockout punch, but it’s the kind of perfectly fine action movie you’d once spend part of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching on cable without any regrets or guilt. In that sense, it may have even more in common with the original Road House than its filmmakers realize.

Road House premieres Thursday, March 21 on Amazon Prime Video.

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