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Review: ‘Road House’ Remake Offers Humor and Ultra-Violence

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It’s hard to imagine a more rollicking opening night film to kick off SXSW 2024 than director Doug Liman’s remake of the 1989 cheese-fest Road House, which starred the late, great 80s action icon Patrick SwayzeThe crowd enthusiastically hooted and hollered their way through Liman’s ultra-violent take on a Zen dispenser of pain with a troubled conscience. There was also plenty of laughter from the crowd, which included Liman, as well as the film’s stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Billy Magnussen, Jessica Williams, rapper-turned-actor Post Malone, and UFC champion Conor McGregor.

The story and humor in the 2024 Road House remake

Road House’s best quality is in its comedic moments, but aside from the effective comedy, Road House is a thin imitation of the original. The film ratchets up the violence while employing a paint-by-numbers story and character development that offers virtually no surprises. 

We meet our hero, Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he enters the ring of an underground fighting event. We don’t get to see Dalton fight, though. The ultimate badass who Dalton will challenge (Post Malone in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo) and who, seconds before, we saw destroy his former opponent, refuses to fight as soon as he realizes who he’s up against. Dalton’s history as a UFC fighter, which is doled out to us over the course of the film, ensures he has a hard time finding someone willing to fight him.

After he pockets the cash he won by forfeit, Dalton is stabbed by a disgruntled fight audience member in the parking lot. As he patches himself up, this was the first of several times I longed in vain to hear Gyllenhaal’s Dalton echo Swayze’s campy bon mot, “pain don’t hurt.”

He’s approached by Frankie (Jessica Williams). She tells Dalton that she owns and operates a rough-and-tumble roadhouse in the Florida Keys, and she needs help cleaning up the riffraff who routinely smash the bar to pieces during drunken brawls. Frankie offers Dalton $5,000 a week for one month for him to clean up Dodge. (Dax Sheppard, who served as the SXSW moderator for the post-screening Q&A, summed up the faulty logic of the film by cheekily noting that it made perfect sense for the owner of a struggling road-side bar to have the resources to offer $20,000 to a bouncer.) 

Road House Jake Gyllenhaal Connor McGregor
Jake Gyllenhaal and Connor McGregor in Road House (Prime Video)

Dalton begrudgingly agrees to take on the job. His first encounter with the local toughs (who, surprising absolutely no one, have a hidden motive for their violent behavior)  highlights the comedy that works so well in Road House. When Dalton is forced to break the arm of one of his assailants, he asks the men how far it is to the nearest hospital. The weakest of the men offers up, in a comedic shrinking violet murmur, that it’s about a 25-minute drive.

His helpfulness is rewarded by the biggest laugh of the movie, as the picture smash cuts to Dalton driving the men who he’s only moments ago pummeled, to the hospital as they sit in the car in silent and awkward defeat. If only the rest of the movie offered up as much fun.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dalton, Conor McGregor, and the rest of the cast and characters

When Dalton arrives by bus to Glass Key, he meets a helpful father and daughter who run a local bookstore. The daughter awkwardly gives us the thesis of the movie when she remarks that Dalton seems to be the character in a western novel, who appears to clean up the town before moving on. The pair are here solely to offer up encouragement and help, and to be put in peril in the movie’s third act; their characterizations as paper thin as the plot. 

The same goes for the rest of the ensemble. Ellie (Daniela Melchior), a local doctor who initially chastises Dalton for causing the injury and suffering that she and the rest of the hospital staff must mitigate, hopelessly falls in love with the wayward bouncer for no particular reason. 

Well, I suppose there is one very particular reason. 

As Dalton, Jake Gyllenhaal is in full Greek God mode. The actor made sure to take a beat to thank his team of trainers during the Q&A, and with good reason. In the movie, Gyllenhaal has a set of abs you could use as a hot, hot washboard. His physique is doubtless the result of an unimaginable training regimen and the forsaking of all carbs. 

Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House
Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House (Prime Video)

That makes his on-screen face-offs with iconic UFC fighter Conor McGregor, who plays the unhinged Big Bad Knox, more believable. Knox is brought in by the imprisoned father of our villain, Brandt (another big laugh comes when Dalton mocks his morbidly rich nemesis’s name) when it’s clear that Brandt has lost control of the situation.

Billy Magnussen, as Brandt, builds on the villain persona he’s honed in titles like Ingrid Goes West and the short-lived series Made for Love. Brandt is trying to run The Road House out of business. The reason is kept a mystery, but you, or likely anyone with two brain cells to rub together, can probably guess why. 

McGregor, who recently courted controversy by tweeting anti-immigrant statements regarding his homeland of Ireland, subtweeting the leader of the neo-fascist Britain First party, and gaining the endorsement of Elon Musk (never a good sign) to run for President of Ireland, has a lot of fun as Knox. 

We meet the character completely nude as he walks away from an angry husband whose wife Knox has been entertaining. McGregor embraces a psychopathic demeanor for his character, and it works. Still, in one crucial sequence, a fight between Dalton and Knox basically peters out. Not because it makes logical sense within the movie, but because the plot demands it in order for the men to square off one final time in the climax. 

Final thoughts on Doug Liman’s Road House remake

The violence contained in Road House is brutal stuff, but that’s tempered, and not in a good way, by Doug Liman’s decision to use CGI to portray the most graphic hits. The worst of these instances reside squarely within the realm of the uncanny valley. One can almost visualize the mouse hovering over a character to manipulate a vicious attack.

Liman’s camera during the fight scenes also takes on over-stylized movements that are tied to the actors’ motions. Several times throughout the movie, the camera becomes a first-person representation of a character’s point-of-view, effectively making it all look like a cheap video game.

There are what should be surprises over the course of Road House involving a dirty cop, a hidden familial relationship, and a nefarious scheme. But it’s all so obvious that you can call each beat of the plot well before they happen. Road House has its strong points, the beautifully shot locations are one, but it’s ultimately a slick and flashy tribute to an 80s camp classic with not much below the surface.

Road House releases on Prime Video on March 21, 2021. Are you planning to watch this film? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.

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Josh Thayer

Josh Thayer has been writing as The Forgetful Film Critic since 2014 and is a member of the North Texas Film Critics Association as well as the Online Film Critics Society. Website:

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