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Film Review

‘Road House’ is a rollicking good time

4/3/2024

“Road House”
R | 121 minutes
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Anthony Bagarozzi, Chuck Mondry, R. Lance Hill
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Conor McGregor

The release of a new “Road House” film sparks both curiosity and skepticism. Attempting to fill the shoes of the gritty, sweaty Patrick Swayze classic from 1989 is no small feat. Sequels and remakes often struggle to strike the delicate balance between good and so-bad-it’s-good that defined many films from that era, with many tipping away from the realm of outright bad. 

However, upon viewing, it becomes evident that this “Road House” remake, helmed by “The Bourne Identity” director Doug Liman, is not to be dismissed lightly. Despite its unconventional release strategy (in an age when disposable content inundates audiences, this move raises doubts about the film’s quality and impact), the film boasts production values that exceed the typical expectations for digital releases. From its high-octane action sequences to its textured cinematography, there’s a sense that this UFC-infused “Road House” was meant for the big screen. 

The story unfolds in the sun-soaked Florida Keys, a departure from the Midwest honky-tonk atmosphere of the original. Jake Gyllenhaal steps into the role of Elwood Dalton, a brawler with a checkered past and mixed martial arts skills. Living out of his car in the gritty underbelly of south Florida, Dalton finds himself drawn to the “Road House,” a beachside dive in need of his particular set of talents. As he navigates through a world of shady characters and hair-trigger tempers, Dalton becomes embroiled in a web of drugs, corruption and violence.

While the film boasts entertaining and visceral action sequences, its plot occasionally loses coherence amidst the chaos. Character development takes a backseat, with supporting cast members receiving scant attention. This lack of depth undermines potential storylines and leaves intriguing details, such as the motivations of Dalton’s love interest, Ellie (Daniela Melchior), underexplored. 

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Despite its shortcomings, “Road House” succeeds in delivering a wild ride filled with bone-crunching fights and absurd humor. Liman’s direction strikes a balance between gritty realism and over-the-top antics, resulting in a film that, while not without flaws, ultimately delivers a fun and entertaining experience.

At the heart of the film is Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Dalton, a character who balances dry wit with philosophical musings. Gyllenhaal brings a depth to the role, grounding the film amidst its more outlandish moments. However, it’s UFC champ Conor McGregor who steals the spotlight with his devilishly flamboyant portrayal of the villainous henchman Knox. Can he act? Absolutely not — but you can tell he’s having fun in the role. And for this kind of movie, that kind of works. McGregor’s presence injects the film with a manic energy and provides audiences with a villain they wouldn’t mind seeing have his face punched in. 

Director Doug Liman strikes a delicate balance between camp and seriousness, infusing the film with both humor and intensity. The action sequences are a highlight, showcasing impressive stunt work and choreography. Liman’s direction keeps the pace brisk, ensuring that the film never loses momentum. However, the MMA-inspired action occasionally feels lacking in cinematic flair, with the film relying more on raw brutality than visual innovation.

Despite its flaws, the new “Road House” succeeds in delivering a rollicking good time. Sure, it feels like the highest budget made-for-TV movie ever and features a storyline so thin you can see through it. Even so, Liman’s focus on visceral action somehow delivers a film that is both entertaining and engaging. While it may not reach the heights of its predecessor (and if it makes you reach for the 1989 classic, all the better for it), the remake proves that, sometimes, pandemonium is all you need. With its blend of adrenaline-pumping fights, charismatic performances, and sun-soaked setting, the new “Road House” offers a welcome escape into a world of rough-and-tumble entertainment. 

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