ROAD HOUSE (2024) – Review – We Are Movie Geeks


ROAD HOUSE (2024) – Review

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So, last weekend saw the release of a sequel, the fourth in a franchise concerning the powerful Po, and this Friday we’ll get a hybrid sequel/reboot with those proton-pack sporting phantom fighters. So, what about a full-fledged remake? Aha, you’ll get your wish this Thursday with a “re-imagining” of a cult favorite from way back in 1989, a year which I’ll always associate with the caped crusader. But he wasn’t the only action hero as the late great (Starlord called “legendary”) Patrick Swayze rocked a cool mullet as he broke bones and noses (and a few hearts) as the baddest “bouncer” of them all. Sure, there was a straight-to-video sequel in 2006, but now we get a new spin on the tale when we drop in for some brews and bruisin’ at the ole’ ROAD HOUSE.

Version 2.0 for 2024 begins at a gritty, grimy highly underground mixed martial arts venue (perhaps a former warehouse or garage). After a very nasty bout, the call goes out for another contender. The money piles up as a silent figure in a hoodie (which hides his face) strides into the “ring”. The mood changes as he reveals himself as Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal), which causes the “champ” to balk at the challenge. Outside, after a nasty encounter with a disgruntled “investor”, Dalton is approached by Frankie (Jessica Williams) who offers him a job as “security” at her South Florida bar and grill. He dismisses her, but after a life-changing night, Dalton boards a Greyhound to Glass Key, where a friendly bookstore owner and his daughter direct him to the beachfront Road House (the actual name of the “joint”). Dalton meets with Frankie who allows him to stay at the old run-down tugboat (merely called “The Boat”) at the nearby dock. In the evening Dalton sends a biker gang to the hospital where he encounters a lovely doctor, Ellie (Daniela Melchoir). It turns out that the hooligans are employed by a shady local businessman named Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen). He wants the Road House land and puts into motion a plan to eliminate Dalton, using a crooked local sheriff named “Big Dick” ((Joaquim de Almeida) and a human wrecking ball named Knox (Conor McGregor). Will they take down Dalton? And what secret from his past haunts his sleepless nights?

Gyllenhaal lets his chiseled physique do most of the heavy lifting (a big part of his “prep’ no doubt) as the often stoic “peacekeeper” of the beach, and “The Boat”. His mellow demeanor turns out to be part of his fighting skills along with a low-key snarky delivery (“Ooo, that must really hurt”). It helps to “draw us in” as we and his new neighbors and co-workers try to figure out his “deal” (being motivations and “backstory”). In all, Gyllenhaal makes a pretty formidable action hero with a steely charisma behind those expressive eyes (which aid in formulating an attack and defense strategy). Melchoir is a sultry romantic sparring partner to him, doing her best with the underwritten “meet cute in the ER” dialogue. The duo share a real humanity as opposed to the cartoonish villains. Magnussen is a wild-eyed sneering “frat bro” with almost no patience or “impulse control”. Ah, but he’s “Mr. Mellow” compared to the unbridled id of McGregor’s Knox who literally embodies a flesh and blood Looney Tune. His frenzy-fueled appetite is pure Tasmanian Devil, while his stomping swagger is right from Chuck Jones’ Pepe Le Pew (that triangle torso with clenched fists at the side as he marches off in pursuit of his “luuvor”). He appears to be having a grand time as the story’s true “wild card” of painful mayhem.

So the filmmaker doing the “re-imagining” is none other than Doug Liman, the first Bourne helmer and the movie MR. & MRS. SMITH. He grabs us in the opening act as we enter the violent world of Dalton and his nomadic life. Then we’re back in “brawl mode’ after a brief visit with the local booksellers, giving us a taste of his compassion for the “lil’ guys”. In a bit of foreshadowing, the teen there compares him to a pulp Western hero (SHANE perhaps), but we learn that Dalton’s “quest” is closer to the hero of THE QUIET MAN. After the first “biker showdown” the pace languidly rolls in and out like the tide outside the spacious bar. Brandt throws yet another “hissy fit” as Dalton dispatches another of his near-endless supply of beefy goons. As I mentioned earlier, Knox does provide an electric shock, but the “big showdown” devolves into a loud noisy aquatic chase with explosions and flying speedboats right out of the FAST & FURIOUS franchise. Like those flicks, one ending piles upon another, and another, and…Much of that could be forgiven if not for the squelching of the comic talents of Williams (she’s reduced to “hovering” in her office and observing the chaos below). Action fans will enjoy some of the rapid smackdowns but fans of the original will miss its sweaty campy macho antics. It’s worth making a stop at this ROAD HOUSE, though you may not make it to the “last call”.

2.5 out of 4

ROAD HOUSE is now streaming exclusively on Prime Video

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.