review

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Road House remake is brutal, violent and hell of a good time

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House, a remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House, a remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie. Credit: Laura Radford/Laura Radford/Prime Video

The 1989 Patrick Swayze movie Road House is one of those films renowned for being so bad it’s good.

On an objective level, Road House should be a disaster – the performances were hammy, the fighting was shaggy but rote and it’s about half an hour too long. But there were so much weird stuff in it – “a polar bear fell on me!” – it earnt a cult status.

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You couldn’t tell if Swayze’s zen master super-bouncer was meant to be that relaxed or if he was just phoning it in. Well, he was chill until he literally started ripping people’s throats out.

Jake Gyllenhaal is not chill. He has never been chill. Gyllenhaal has a long history of chaotic, Puck-ish or intense performances, ranging from the likes of Donnie Darko to Velvet Buzzsaw. So, his version of Dalton was never going to be a supposed philosophy graduate from Columbia.

Instead of a famous bouncer, because those don’t exist, Gyllenhaal’s Dalton is a former MMA fighter with almost no money and even less purpose. His fearsome reputation from his days in the cage follows him, as does his traumas – cue shaky flashbacks and haunted eyes.

Road House is a remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie.
Jake Gyllenhaal at the bar in a scene from Road House. Credit: Laura Radford/Laura Radford/Prime Video

Frankie (Jessica Williams) hires him to be a bouncer for her Florida Keys bar, an establishment where the band has to be protected by a steel fence from the aggro patrons who kick off over nothing and everything. Why anyone frequents these venues is beyond comprehension.

Frankie’s bar is being targeted by Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen, once again proving he can play the most punch-able, weaselly villains), in charge of his now imprisoned father’s crime empire. The bar sits on a primo piece of land earmarked for development, except she’s refusing to sell.

Then there’s the complication of hitman Knox (Conor McGregor), a deranged unit who has clearly never been loved. Knox is like a bull in a china shop, a pure destructive force that cannot be tamed. The role is McGregor’s acting debut but it’s not persuasive that he is acting at all – the pandemonium of his screen presence lines up with McGregor’s public image.

Road House is a remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie.
Jake Gyllenhaal squares up in Road House. Credit: Laura Radford/Laura Radford/Prime Video

It’s a formidable match-up between the two. The film establishes Dalton early on as someone who can slap down five gang members with the speed of a cheetah while barely having to shift his weight. So to see the character properly hurt, it needed to put him up against someone wild.

Directed by Doug Liman, Road House’s fight scenes are messy, brutal and kinetic. Punches land hard, chairs break easily and characters inexplicably survive (barely) being thrown from speed boats. There’s a lot going on but that’s what this version of Road House is for.

Liman is a proven action director – he’s done Mr & Mrs Smith, The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow – and he is full command of the stunts here. All those elaborate set-pieces are running at full velocity and they’re so much fun to watch. It’s just a shame that you can’t see them in a cinema, a sore point for Liman.

More dynamic and less strange than the original, this remake is a hell of a good time as long as you don’t think too hard about any of it. But it probably won’t reach cult status, it’s neither excellent nor terrible enough for that.

Rating: 3/5

Road House is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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