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Movie Review: 'Road House' Starring Jake Gyllenhaal

You can't remake the magic of Roadhouse. Even if you are Jake Gyllenhaal.

By Sean PatrickPublished 21 days ago 6 min read
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Road House (2024)

Directed Doug Liman

Written by Charles Mondry, Anthony Bagarozzi

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Conor MacGregor

Release Date March 21st, 2024

Published March 25th, 2024

Imagine if someone tried to remake The Room without Tommy Wiseau. Imagine if they tried to take Wiseau's premise and treat it with seriousness and make it into a serious drama? Would it even still be The Room? No, the magic would be gone. It would be a boring soap opera. No, the magic of The Room is the unique alchemy that emerges from when Tommy Wiseau's outsized ambition crashes headlong into his complete lack of talent and a movie is forged in the fire of his self-delusion. You cannot remake that. You cannot recapture that kind of magic.

Roadhouse is like The Room. The magic of Roadhouse comes from the unique alchemy of director Rowdy Herrington's love of sleazy bars with sticky, beer soaked floors, holes in the walls from errant fists, and from Patrick Swayze's unmatched ability to be bizarrely emotionally detached and fully physically present in every scene. His Zen bouncer is a miscalculation in theory but in practice, it is cheeseball comic gold. He's funny but only because he has no idea that he's funny. The joy of Roadhouse is in how deeply dedicated Swayze and everyone else is to this sleazy, cheeseball nonsense.

In remaking Roadhouse, the fun is completely lost in favor of a desire to be taken seriously. The premise is played straight with the fun sucked out almost entirely. A deeply bored Jake Gyllenhaal replaces Swayze's Zen with a quizzical bemusement and so much is lost in that translation. Gyllenhaal is too good of an actor to understand the glorious silliness of being a Zen bouncer fighting rednecks over control of a small Kansas town. Instead of trying to be above it, Gyllenhaal just comes of bemused and self-satisfied and that's just not fun at all. Plus, he doesn't rip out a single throat. Not one.

Road House begins in bizarre fashion, establishing that no one knows what they are doing here. Gyllenhaal's Dalton shows up at a bar where they hold an unsanctioned fight club. There, a bruiser, played in cameo by Post Malone, has fought and defeated 6 men. Dalton is set to be next but the bruiser smartly bows out, refusing to fight Dalton because he knows who Dalton is. He's also just fought 6 other people and is bleeding and exhausted. So, instead of establishing Dalton as a man of honor and toughness, he comes off as an opportunist and a coward. Not the best way to introduce our hero.

Then, the plot kicks in. Frankie (Jessica Williams), the owner of a Road House in the Florida Keys is seeking a new bouncer. She happens to also recognize Dalton from his time as an MMA Fighter. She decides to offer him $20,000 to come to Florida and be her lead bouncer. He refuses but takes her phone number. After sleeping in his car and nearly dying in a car accident, Dalton hops a bus for Florida and a brand new life as a bouncer. What he doesn't know is that he's walking into a hornets nest of rednecks and criminals.

Billy Magnusson co-stars as the dilettante son of a mobster who thinks he can intimidate Frankie into giving up her road house, which is also just named The Road House. When Dalton arrives, he immediately gets in the way of the young mobster's group of biker thugs. In, what is admittedly a good fight scene, one with a minor sense of humor, Dalton wrecks the four bikers and then drives them to the hospital himself. There, we meet the assigned love interest Dr. Ellie. Dr. Ellie (Daniela Melchior) patches up Dalton and warns him not to keep bringing business to her hospital.

Melchior and Gyllenhaal have the sexual chemistry of a pair of cousins who aren't sure just how close they are on the family tree. Where Swayze and Kelly Lynch burned up the screen in Roadhouse, regardless of how bad the movie was, they were gorgeous together, Gyllenhaal and Melchior couldn't strike a match with their chemistry. The supporting players in the modern Road House are all a boring lot, including Melchior. No one, aside from Gyllenhaal and feature guest star, Conor MacGregor, get much of any time to shine.

Doug Liman is a good director, far too good to be directing Road House. Road House needs a journeyman director who doesn't know or care about the rules of film. Rowdy Herrington had a certain panache and could frame a scene well enough, but he didn't care for making anything look perfect. It's a shaggy, loose, and sweaty bit of direction that is constantly threatening to go bad. You can sense that the action was captured quickly, with few takes and as little coverage as possible. That looseness fits the chaotic and sleazy story being told.

The original Roadhouse also moved at a terrific pace, as if Herrington knew that if he slowed down too much, the whole movie would fall apart. Road House meanwhile, clips along at a dull pace, pausing for well choreographed fights, but otherwise just clicking through a series of predictable scenes. Gyllenhaal gets threatened, beats the threat, and another threat emerges. Lather, rinse, repeat. The only time the movie changes things up are when Conor MacGregor's character gets an admittedly epic introduction. The jacked Irish fighter comes stomping into the movie in the nude, getting his orders over the phone, and proceeding to punch people so hard that something catches fire.

Great intro, I guess, but it doesn't amount to much. MacGregor isn't an actor and his lack of polish emerges anytime he's called upon to recite dialogue. Smartly, that's not often, I'm pretty sure MacGregor throws more punches than he does lines of dialogue. He's not a particularly charismatic performer but he is a physical specimen. The movie uses MacGregor's physicality well. Beyond that however, Road House needed something more from its villains. MacGregor is the final boss because he's a well known MMA star. Billy Magnusson, the other villain, is a complete non-entity. Together, MacGregor and Magnusson could not shine Ben Gazzara's shoes.

The biggest asset of the original Roadhouse is that no one who made Roadhouse were aware that what they were making was a bad movie. They are all committed fully to the madness. The cast and crew were wildly underqualified to make the movie that they wished they were making. When ambition is greater than talent, magic can occur. That's Roadhouse. It's a movie of great ambition, poignantly dashed on the rocks of consumerism and studio demands for boobs, blood, and butt-kicking. I love that. Road House, on the other hand, got a big movie star and a big director, and with all of the advantages of actual talent, they made this. That's disappointing.

There is a moment in the movie Almost Famous that illustrates the difference between intentions and achievement in the way I am trying to describe the difference between Roadhouse 89 and Road House 24. Lester Bangs, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman is pontificating when he sees a Doors record. Bangs pauses and says "The Doors? Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet." He continues "Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic." Road House 24 is posing as a Roadhouse Remake while the original is simply Roadhouse as it is meant to be.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast, wherever you listen to podcasts. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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  • Chris Riggio20 days ago

    My biggest issue with this movie was the over use of CGI. Every time someone gets hit by a car or body slammed it's computer generated and it looks bad. I don't know why they couldn't manage to make a movie about bar fights using practical effects.

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