Review: Jake Gyllenhaal’s Road House Reimagining Is Violent and Funny, Sometimes at the Same Time

Here’s my dark, dirty secret: I don’t hold the 1989 Road House in especially high regard. I certainly don’t dislike it, but as far as I can see, it’s a movie with a whole lot of fighting and not much else. Certainly in the 1980s I was all about movies with fighting, but this one never caught me like it did other audiences. I say all of this to make it clear that I don’t consider the punch-heavy adventures of a guy named Dalton to be hallowed ground that can’t or shouldn’t be remade or—in the case of the 2024 Road House—reimagined. So don’t go looking for me to compare and contrast the two films. In fact, outside of this paragraph, I’m not even going to mention the original film again.

This particular story centers on an ex-UFC fighter named Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal, ripped beyond words), who is drifting and grifting. He shows up at pick-up fights, hides away in the corner, and when the betting gets fevered and in the favor of whoever the local champ is, he shows his face, people recognize him, and they bow out before a single punch is thrown, leaving all of the cash to Dalton. After one such match, a Florida Keys roadhouse owner named Frankie (Jessica Williams) approaches Dalton and asks if he would be interested in a bouncing job in her notoriously rowdy establishment, where fights seem to break out several times a night while a blues or swampy rock band plays behind a cage. He eventually accepts the offer, rents a crappy houseboat to live in, and the fun begins.

When Dalton first rolls into town, he meets a teen girl named Charlie (Hannah Lanier) whose father owns the town’s only used book store (in this town, this might be the only building that houses any books), and the two form an unlikely but sweet bond that only serves to kickstart a revenge plot later in the movie. Dalton is a laid-back hombre, never seeming to get angry, even when he’s being challenged by multiple guys looking to flatten him. He’s so nice to anyone he fights, he even offers to take one such group of opponents to the hospital after he takes them down. At the hospital, he meets a nurse named Ellie (Daniela Melchior), who takes a liking to him immediately. We find out later that she’s the daughter of the corrupt local sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida), a man who does dirty work for local real estate developer Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen). Brandt, it just so happens, wants very much to buy and tear down the roadhouse to build a massive, posh resort that only rich people could afford, thus driving out the remaining locals. Everything is connected!

Working from a screenplay by Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry, director Doug Liman (Go, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) is certainly no stranger to helming great action sequences, and the fight scenes in Road House are the film’s best moments, especially when former UFC champion Conor McGregor (in his feature-film acting debut) shows up as Knox, an enforcer for Brandt who is hired to take out Dalton once and for all. Dalton has spent his first few weeks on the job training some of the other bouncers at the bar and typically leaves the bouncing to them unless an extreme situation arises. So by the time Knox and his men show up to trash the place, Dalton’s reputation has been established. But he has a dark history and a reason for leaving his UFC fighting days behind, which Knox exploits and rubs in his face in order to get a rise out of Dalton.

When Brandt’s men try to hit Dalton where his heart lives by going after Charlie and her father, well, that’s when he gets angry. And you won’t like him when he’s angry. At a certain point, Road House just becomes a waiting game, and what we’re waiting for is punching and other action. And I'm fully onboard with that. If you think the action ends at fists being thrown, get ready for explosions, boat chases, and loads of stabbing. The plot is unnecessarily dense and takes up way too much of the film’s running time. As much as I like what McGregor brings to the table with his albeit limited acting talents, Magnussen is a generic, rich asshole, sipping brown liquor from a fancy glass and acting like he’s untouchable until somebody shows him differently. This is no great film, but the action is brutal at times, funny in other moments, and generally entertaining. Everything else is dead weight, set to a bland bayou rock soundtrack.

The film is now streaming on Prime Video.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.