Film Review – Road House

Road House

Road House

Road House (2024) has a goofy, testosterone-filled nuttiness that teeters on being too silly for its own good. Some of you may think that is a bad thing. But if you remember the Patrick Swayze starring 1989 vehicle of the same name, you may recall that that could have fit the description the exact same way. If anything, this loose remake’s biggest disadvantage is the era it was released. I could see this doing gangbusters on late night cable, providing a surprising level of entertainment, comedy, and action. Instead, it must compete in a crowded streaming arena. This isn’t exactly nuanced storytelling, but it doesn’t pretend to be either. Is the movie kind of dumb? Yes. But it’s dumb fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Directed by Doug Liman – with a screenplay by Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry – the narrative takes on a similar structure as the ’89 film. Filling in for Swayze is Jake Gyllenhaal, playing the protagonist Dalton. Dalton is an ex-UFC fighter turned homeless wanderer. He makes ends meet by entering underground fight clubs. His time in the UFC is so well known that other contestants quit before a single punch is thrown. His reputation catches the eye of Frankie (Jessica Williams) who hires Dalton to come down to the Florida Keys and work as a bouncer at her bar – the aptly named “The Road House.” We learn that The Road House has been a target of a biker gang, working for a shady businessman named Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) who wants to tear it down for his own financial purposes.  


That’s really all there is to it. The biker gang try their best to cause a commotion, but to their shock, Dalton proves to be a tough and vicious adversary. Some of the funnier sequences has Dalton reluctantly defending the bar knowing exactly what’s going to happen. He’s so concerned about the gang getting roughed up that he asks them if they have good health insurance and checks where the nearest hospital is located. He’s so considerate that after he promptly beats them up, he drives them to the hospital and helps them get checked in. The plot unfolds in repeating fashion, with Brandt sending one henchman after another to take down Dalton, only to have them come back bruised and bloodied. Things get so desperate, that Brandt’s father calls on Knox (Conor McGregor) – to clean up the mess. Knox is a loose cannon and is just as physically capable a fighter as Dalton.

I’ll admit to you, a lot of what goes down in Road House is pretty ludicrous. Much of the dialogue is stiff and awkward. Scenes that are meant to be emotional – such as when Frankie shares how much the bar means to her – comes off flat and clunky. The bar itself is described as a hot bed of drunks, malcontents, and all around no good people. It’s explained that the police have little influence, and that many are corrupt. But if we take a closer look at the bar itself, we realize the production design made it look like a tourist attraction. With its open-air layout, tropical design, ocean front views, and nightly music, The Road House looks like an extension of a high-end resort. The film doesn’t do a very good job at convincing us that this is a seedy, dangerous place. 

Liman’s direction (in coordination with the stunt choreography and Henry Braham’s cinematography) takes a unique approach to the action. A lot of it is shot in closeup, with added digital effects to create a heightened sense of reality. The result is a camera frame that whips back and forth, following each punch and kick with jerky, sudden movements. Liman loves having the camera slash and spin with unnatural quickness. The fight scenes have a hastened pace, due to the camera unwilling to sit still. At first, the relentless motion was nauseating, but I eventually adjusted to it. Although the style isn’t exactly my taste, I’ll acknowledge that it is interesting. For action junkies that like clear and discernable choreography, this may or may not work. For myself, I admired the production’s attempt at something different.


What ultimately wins us over is the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. He is an actor that can take any standard role and put a different twist to it. Yes, Dalton calls for Gyllenhaal to be tough and charismatic, and he is certainly both of those things. But he also adds an edge that makes him far more fascinating than he has any right to be. Recurrent flashbacks bring us to Dalton’s time in the UFC, slowly revealing the reasons why is no longer a professional fighter. This information eats away at his soul, giving him a weariness that adds to his near invulnerable persona. Dalton isn’t afraid of pain – he may not even be afraid of dying – and that’s what makes him formidable. The narrative tries to include supporting characters that help bring out Dalton’s humanity. E.R. doctor Ellie (Daniela Melchoir) along with Charlie (Hannah Love Lanier), who works at the local bookstore, are meant to tap into Dalton’s softer side, but neither amount to much.

What makes Dalton work as a character is his proclivity for violence. He’s so good at what he does that he is afraid of slipping over the edge. That’s what makes his encounters with criminals so funny, because he wants to save them from themselves. Gyllenhaal inhabits Dalton with the loathing he gives off in films like Donnie Darko (2001) or Nightcrawler (2014). He’s so aware of what he can do that it takes all his willpower to keep the monster inside. It’s as though he is another version of Bruce Banner and The Incredible Hulk. In fact, Dalton has a monologue that is eerily comparable to Bruce Banner’s “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” catchphrase.

Obviously, Road House isn’t aiming for anything else other than sheer visceral thrills, and for the most part it accomplishes that goal. This is a glossy B-level movie that is over the top, bloody, and a bit of a mess. Sometimes, that’s all we want. This is junk food cinema that goes down smooth.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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