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'Road House' review: Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor liven decent remake

Courtesy of Amazon Studios/MGM


People often forget the 1989 “Road House” wasn’t huge upon release. It was critically panned, didn’t make that much money, and, at least for that moment in time, thwarted Patrick Swayze’s attempt to rebrand his image in the wake of “Dirty Dancing.” It was only after VHS sales and continuous reruns on cable that the movie garnered cult classic status and became one of the biggest “Dad” movies ever made. I could make an argument that Swayze’s iconic bouncer, Dalton is the coolest, most charismatic cinematic hero of all time. A take-no-crap wise guy who can woo the attractive town doctor, break some skulls, and, literally, rip your throat out. In other words, the original “Road House,” a guzzy and sweaty romp that bent the rules of the late eighties action pictures and somehow found a way to work, was in a league of its own.


So why would anyone want to remake it?  


That seems to be the question whenever Hollywood executives run out of ideas and decide to put a modern-day spin on a piece of IP. Yet, with all those odds stacked against it, Doug Liman’s rowdy 2024 iteration, which sees Jake Gyllenhaal take over for the late Swayze, encapsulates the spirit and energy of the 1989 version while delivering plenty of bare-knuckle thrills, mindless escapism, and one cranked up portrayal from UFC fighter-turned-actor Conor McGregor who is having the time of his live playing the villain. 


This version of “Road House” does take certain liberties the previous one didn’t. We are given a backstory as to why Dalton (Gyllenhaal) is good with his hands and knows where to throw the right hook if he wants to send you to the hospital. With Swayze’s rendition, we just assumed it stemmed from his mental resilience and those hilariously awkward Tai Chi sessions, but Gyllenhaal’s Dalton was a UFC fighter who’s anger issues got the better of him. Now, he’s looking for a fresh start and relocates from Missouri to the Florida Keys to help Frankie (Jessica Williams) get her bar, named “The Road House,” under control from aggravated customers who are always looking for trouble.


There is a plot baked into the movie about how Billy Magnussen’s Ben Brandt is trying to buy up real estate to start some massive money-making empire and how Frankie is the only hold out standing in his way. There’s even stuff involving drugs, corrupt cops, a love interest (played by Daniela Melchior), explosions and even crocodiles, but all anyone expects from a remake of “Road House” is some brawls and, maybe, some sex appeal. On the former, director Doug Liman (working with a script by Anthony Bagarozzi, and Chuck Mondry) doesn’t skimp on the in-your-face throwdowns that gave “Road House” its legacy and that’s mainly thanks to Gyllenhaal’s physical agility and some truly impressive stunt work.

The “Southpaw” actor is very convincing playing a man battling inner demons and looking for any way to keep his emotions from getting the best of him, but it’s McGregor, playing the coked-up baddie sent to kill Dalton, that steals the show. Turns out, the UFC champion is a natural at playing deranged and sadistic personalities (much like he portrays in the ring) and his cheeky banter and Irish wit is the type of raged-fueled injection the original version was missing. It’s an absolute heat check of a performance. 


Doug Liman is no stranger to the action genre, having directed some of the best ones this century, including “Edge of Tomorrow,” and “The Bourne Identity,” and those sensibilities lend itself well to the hyper-stylized knuckle-crackling fights displayed in the film. If you’re not a fan of concussions, or dislocated fingers, you should be warned as the sounds of cracking bones and teeth getting knocked out could leave you squirming.

I suppose if you were going to remake “Road House,” this was probably the best case scenario, a primal and deliriously over-the-top action flick that balances humor with bloody melees. It might not reach the highs of what Swayze and company did, but the filmmakers manage to keep the film on track and understand the essence of why people enjoy these silly and mindless action pictures. Just remember to take it outside. 


Grade: B 


ROAD HOUSE debuts on Prime Video Thursday, March 21st


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