Road House Review

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In Road House, Jake Gyllenhaal is a Hulk in the Looney Tunes world and that’s why one should see this remake of 1989 “Road House” where Patrick Swayze starred. The role is played well by Gyllenhaal and Doug Liman who has always known how to let his male leads shine whether it is Matt Damon or Tom Cruise – plays on the darkness lurking beneath UFC-fighter-turned-bouncer Elwood Dalton’s Mr.Rogers-like charm.

The original Road House is an action romp with a simple premise: A kind but tough guy gets hired to clean up a roadhouse bar and ends up in a war against a corrupt businessman terrorizing the small town. It’s not complicated, nor does it take itself seriously. Instead we get stuff like that scene where Swayze (who apparently had a doctorate in philosophy) rips out someone’s throat like he were doing Mortal Kombat fatality. Liman doesn’t simply try to rehash the same thing or strip away everything that made “Road House” great about its predecessor. He instead translates core plotlines and humorous vibes, while adding something serious that doesn’t really match with all the tomfoolery.

This time around, our hero is a down-on-his-luck ex-mixed martial artist with a dark past and murderous intent who finds himself having to protect a bar in Key West, Florida from rich criminal; his corrupt police force; as well as biker gangs. Liman trades the throat-ripping, the advanced degree, the surprise hot-young-Sam-Elliott role, and the bouncer’s “be nice” gospel for a violent, gritty approach that always stays funny somehow. The sheriff calls himself “Big Dick,” there’s an incredibly unlikely alliance between him and an alligator plus this biker turns out to be one of the nicest guys you could ever meet and finally, Conor McGregor – a real-life UFC champ with a really long Wikipedia “controversies” section – casually walks down the street in broad daylight completely naked as though it were just another ordinary day.

Somehow, it works – kind of – and that’s mostly because of McGregor’s outlandish villain and Gyllenhaal’s play-it-straight approach. Dalton broods, is angry and if he wanted to he could rip your throat out. He barely tries to hide this fact; his world is inhabited by cartoon characters causing mayhem at all times. But while his character appears to be serious up until the point it becomes necessary to strike or slap someone, whereupon he starts making wisecracks and delivering one-liners like in a Marvel movie. On the other hand, we have Batman (Gyllenhaal) going full-Joker to match his rogues’ gallery and it works solely because of Gyllenhaal’s charisma.

Meanwhile, McGregor steals the show by playing someone so deranged he trades his Ferrari for a driving-school car because he feels like it, then stops the vehicle by ramming into a tree just for the hell of it. The supporting cast isn’t too far behind: Billy Magnussen plays a pathetic loser who thinks he’s a Bond villain and Arturo Castro shines in the role of a surprisingly reasonable and nice gang member.

The main change by Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry, the screenwriters, is on the theme with the bouncer-versus-businessman dynamic being more about class and race – here, police officers play a major role. The problem is that it does not work at all. Their Road House script tries to expand on the many side characters of the original; however, as soon as it begins to get interesting, they’re forgotten in favor of the story’s protagonist. For example, a lot of interesting things are happening: a rich white dude along with his sheriff-department cronies terrorizing a mostly poor and nonwhite population. But there is hardly anything in it that may be described as a comment or criticism. Road House never goes deep enough to be poignant – its priorities are the action and the silliness.

Even worst, this movie looks like crap! Liman isn’t going for John Wick operatics but he makes choices – which usually stink big time. First off, some action tracking feels like motion smoothing is turned on resulting in synthetic motion pictures moves which look unnatural. It also constantly changes camera lens (like those whiplash-inducing aspect-ratio shifts in Transformers: The Last Knight) and still has multiple scenes that appear as if they were shot using phones. Any good fight choreography is obscured by insufficient lighting; shot-to-shot awful color correction just adds salt to injury; don’t you dare try estimating what time of day a scene was filmed depending on how sky looked.

What’s worse yet for an action movie premised on fistfights that are quite simple most of this action appears computer-generated when there have been so many other movies from major blockbusters to small indies who do compelling, thrilling fights much better than these do. There have been claims that AI was used during 2023 actor’s strike in its production too though whether any truth lies behind them remains unknown. What is clearly apparent, however, is that much of the dialogue in this movie is ADR – more so for McGregor’s lines which are just as bad as those delivered by Madame Web’s nemesis. Nonetheless, the performances and lighter mood do a pretty good job at covering up the visual plus narrative glitches in case you’re able to get along with it and make Road House be a fun though an empty ride.


The fact remains that Road House forsakes 80s earnest silliness in favor of a quasi Saturday-morning-cartoon feel that barely manages to save it. The original story of bouncer-versus-businessman has been remodeled almost slightly and given some thematic weight to pit Jake Gyllenhaal against Conor McGregor who acts like he was born wild. (That is if they ever face each other when such scenes are indistinctly shot and are computer-generated.) This movie would resemble a band playing on stage at some hole-in-the-wall bar with drunks throwing bottles through the thin chicken-wire screen separating them and the audience. You can hear some cool music if you really try but everything is working against it.

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