Road House (2024)

Road House Review

Road House

The movie “Road House” is self-aware that it is a Western. It’s more like a cartoon.

That may sound harsh, but some of the Looney Tunes qualities of this 1989 Patrick Swayze reimagining work in its favor. In fact, during the first hour or so, as director Doug Liman and Anthony Bagarozzi & Charles Mondry are setting things up, there’s a fun B-movie throwback vibe to “Road House” that works for long stretches. But once this defiantly silly movie starts to take itself seriously and asks us to do the same too often it goes off the rails with absurd twists, awkward line readings and some of the worst fight CGI in years. Throughout all of that, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an entertaining performance that goes from charming to menacing (he could play Batman), but even he gets lost in a movie that needed to be sweaty and grounded and urgent where every scene matters but instead just becomes more and more like something you’d watch on Saturday morning.

When “Road House” begins, Elwood Dalton (Gyllenhaal) has fallen from grace. We don’t know how, but we know he’s so famous and physically imposing he scares Post Malone out of a fight club ring before they even make contact that word spreads quickly about his skills as a bouncer. After one canceled fight too many, Dalton is approached by Frankie (Jessica Williams), who owns Road House, a roadhouse in Glass Key named Road House because it’s called Road House. Her place has been under threat by local tough guys on motorcycles for weeks; she can barely stay open; she needs a bouncer; she needs Dalton.

But “Road House” isn’t just about Dalton bouncing at a bar in the Florida Keys. It turns out there’s much more violence happening at Frankie’s than just drunkenness. A real estate power player named Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), who inherited an empire from a criminal father, is trying to get Frankie to shut down. Dalton comes in and takes care of Ben’s lackies in a series of scenes that are pretty well-choreographed and conceived, but they also set up Dalton’s character as the kind of guy who drives his enemies to the hospital after he beats them up.

At said hospital, Dalton meets a doctor named Ellie (Daniela Melchior). She challenges his alleged altruism after all, he just clogged up her ER with a bunch of idiots who wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t such a tough guy in the first place. Obviously she’s going to be the love interest for Dalton, but it takes forever for the movie to get there and then almost immediately backs away from their relationship again, turning elements of Ellie’s life into plot twists. It’s understandable that Dalton would be hesitant to be happy again given the trauma that is revealed about his past, but this is one of several dynamics in “Road House” that feels uncertain of its own purpose. In ‘80s movies like the ones “Road House” so desperately wants to be, there would actually be passion between these two characters instead of what unfolds here more out of narrative necessity.

The tone of “Road House” is even more detrimental than the underwritten character dynamics, which needed to be more physically tangible in order to succeed. This should have been a movie where you could feel the Florida Keys heat, the punch impact, the body hitting the floor thud. The over-crafted noises are there, but it’s all so obviously created in a CGI lab. It’s weird because the fight scenes that are quick like when Dalton disarms a man by making him unable to shoot during the first fight with the bikers have an immediacy that works. But whenever “Road House” has to go “extended fight sequence,” you can see ALL the strings. Punches and their reactions look like cut scenes in a video game far too often, especially a long bar brawl and boat sequence at the end that have CGI so janky I wonder if Prime didn’t want this on a big screen because people would be less likely to notice on a small screen.

And then there’s Conor McGregor as Knox, who launches into the back half of the movie like he was shot out of a cannon to finish off what Dalton starts. Knox brings some life to a movie that’s getting dry, but McGregor’s performance is equally fascinating and baffling, delivered almost entirely through a massive grin like he’s doing a bit at a weigh-in before his next fight. He struts and smiles like an aggro Popeye; it feels like Liman told him to go over-the-top so McGregor shot for orbit. There are times when his line readings sound just flat-out wrong but maybe that’s intentional? It’s such a constant push-and-pull of whether or not McGregor is purposefully awkward because Knox is supposed to be sociopathic or if he just doesn’t know how to put words together on screen yet because he’s still primarily concerned about putting limbs on other people’s faces in real life. Discuss.

That push-and-pull between realism and cartoonish insanity that rests in McGregor’s performance, as silly as it sounds, is indicative of the quality of the movie overall. Gyllenhaal is making one movie a story of an almost-Zen fighter pushed past his breaking point while people like Magnusson and McGregor lean into the ridiculousness in the other half. The two never come together. Of course, there are a lot of ‘80s movies with grounded heroes and exaggerated villains, but this new “Road House” makes one appreciate the balance of those more. And the lack of CGI.

Watch Road House For Free On Gomovies.

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