It’s amazing to think that the original Road House (1989) is now 35 years old. Whilst it didn’t set the box office alight upon its release, since then it has gone on to become a cult classic, with many recognizing it to be one of the best American action films of the 80’s. Because of this, the idea of remaking it may seem almost sacrilegious to its many fans.

Personally, I was more open to the idea, especially when that remake has director Doug Liman, leading man Jake Gyllenhaal as well as the original film’s producer Joel Silver involved. It has been something of a long road for this iteration of the film to reach the screen, with directors Rob Cohen and Nick Cassavettes being attached at separate times, with the Dalton character being taken by Ronda Rousey in a gender reversed role.

Obviously that version of the film never came to fruition, although it would have been interesting to see how or even if Rousey’s casting would change the tone of the material. After being put on hold, the production once again resumed life, with Doug Liman taking over to give us this new take on an action classic.

Other than sharing the same title and featuring a lead character called Dalton, there isn’t much to join this update with the original. Sure, Dalton still takes a job to protect a bar, but the surrounding elements all feel very different. In many respects it has the same set up of a classic western, which one character even alludes to several times during the film. The lone hero rides into town, or in this case takes the bus, then proceeds to tidy it up of its criminal elements.

Honestly, I felt while watching the film that screenwriters Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry had just written a generic action script that was then altered to add in some elements that would justify the Road House name. This take on the material has washed up MMA fighter Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) taking part in bare knuckle fights to make ends meet. One such fight brings him to the attention of Frankie (Jessica Williams), the owner of a rowdy roadhouse bar in the Florida Keys. She is looking for a head bouncer to clean the place up and thinks Dalton is the right man for the job.

Initially apprehensive, Dalton eventually takes the job. It isn’t long until he finds himself in the thick of it, coming up against a biker gang led by Dell (JD Pardo). His swift take down of the gang makes him popular with both the bar staff and the town’s locals. Unbeknownst to Dalton, the biker gang works for local crime boss Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), who has reasons for preying on the Road House, which becomes clearer the longer Dalton spends in town.

With Dalton becoming a thorn in his side, Brandt has to bring in some outside help, which comes in the form of the crazed Knox (Conor McGregor). Like a wild dog, Knox is willing to do whatever it takes to take down Dalton, with Brandt unable to control him. At the same time, Dalton strikes up a relationship with local doctor Ellie (Daniela Melchior) which gives him a reason to stay in town, but is also something that can be used against him.

Considering Doug Liman kicked off the Bourne franchise with the Bourne Identity (2002) and directed the likes of Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) as well as the awesome Edge of Tomorrow (2014), I thought the Road House remake was in safe hands. He certainly pitches his film at the right tone, with it never taking itself too seriously, even during the film’s darker moments. Like the original, there are some entertainingly quirky characters and comedic moments included that help to lighten the mood.

The film is also well shot, with Liman employing the talents of cinematographer Henry Braham who gives the action and drama a nice glossy sheen. The Dominican Republic locations (standing in for the Florida Keys) are all beautifully shot and well incorporated into the action.

Ah, the action. This is where Liman’s film begins to come apart, although this isn’t the only drawback, which I will come to later. In a film like Road House, you would expect the action to be the selling point, but here it is one of the most disappointing aspects of the film. For some reason, nearly every action scene in the film is “assisted” with CGI. Rather than adding to the action, it takes away any hint of realism, with it feeling like cut-scenes from a video game. Every fight has elements that had me going “oh that was good” to only be ruined by the inclusion of unnecessary CGI.

The two main fight scenes of the film have Gyllenhaal and McGregor facing off. Now it is clear that the both of them put in the work, with them pulling off some decent choreography, but then it is spoiled with a CGI effect. In one particular instance it appears that the special effects artists forgot to put a face on Gyllenhaal’s CGI double, with it looking expressionless.

I just don’t understand the logic and the reasoning behind this approach to the action. I can understand the subtle use of CGI to make multiple shots appear like one fluid take, which at certain points seems to be the reason for its use. Even so, surely both Gyllenhaal and McGregor could do this physically by themselves rather than relying on the use of extensive CGI.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the CGI is off a high quality, but it is of a cheaper variety which pretty much confirms that Road House was always destined for a streaming release, where more undemanding audiences would be more forgivable of such drawbacks.

At least Liman has cast a quality leading man in Jake Gyllenhaal. As expected, he gives the role 100%, which is further compounded by the shape he has gotten himself into for the role. Similar to how he looked in Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw (2015), Gyllenhaal is clearly ready for action.

As well as looking the part, Gyllenhaal brings a cocky swagger to the character, who like the Swayze version, is calm under pressure until he is pushed too far. Whereas Swayze’s original Dalton was like a Zen warrior, Gyllenhaal’s character is more down to earth, as well as being more damaged by his past. Accidentally killing an opponent in the ring weighs heavily on him which allows Gyllenhaal to bring more to his character than just being the tough hero.

However, the script strangely changes his character in the final third of the film, with Dalton becoming almost psychotic with the lengths he is willing to go to stop Magnussen’s Brandt. Let’s just say that Patrick Swayze’s Dalton never kept dead bodies on ice so that he could use them later. Additionally, for someone who constantly has nightmares over killing someone, he doesn’t seem to bulk at cold blooded murder in the latter stages of the film. Luckily for Liman, Gyllenhaal is still able to sell this swift change in personality. He also capably convinces in the film’s action scenes, even when he is being short changed by shoddy CGI.

Unfortunately, none of the supporting cast other than Conor McGregor really make much of an impression. Magnussen makes an ineffectual villain, with his whiny childish behavior robbing him of any menace. He comes off even worse when you compare him to the mighty Ben Gazzara who played the original film’s villain, with the charismatic Gazzara playing him like the devil incarnate.

Then we come to the aforementioned McGregor, here making his Hollywood debut. When I said he was memorable, it isn’t for the right reasons, with him giving a hysterically poor performance. With a ridiculous grin constantly sprayed over his face, presumably to convey menace, McGregor finally makes Road House crumble beneath its lofty ambitions. I noted some reviews online stating McGregor almost steals the film. They must have been watching another film as I can’t remember the last time I have seen such a laughably bad performance in a major movie.

Obviously McGregor was hired more for his fighting skills than his acting, but even then he doesn’t get as much to do as expected. Marshall Teague’s similar role in the original should have been McGregor’s guide, rather than going so over the top that it seems he has walked in from another movie.

To be honest, fans of the original would be better checking out the DTV sequel Road House 2: Last Call (2006). Sure, it may not have met with the highest of critical acclaim, but considering it was made on a fraction of the budget of Liman’s film, it is an enjoyable actioner that at least favors proper fight choreography over sub-par CGI. Other than capturing the feeling of the original film better than Liman’s big budget blockbuster, it also features the underrated Jonathon Schaech facing off against martial arts movie legend Richard Norton which should be enough of a selling point to action fans.

Personally, Road House will probably go down as one of the most disappointing action films of 2024. I really wanted to like this one, being both a fan of Liman and Gyllenhaal, but it has too many elements going against it to make it anything more than a one time watch. There are things to enjoy here, but just not enough.

Plot: 2/5
Acting: 2.5/5
Action: 2/5
Overall: 2.1/5



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