Road House review | Jake Gyllenhaal is the standout in a boisterous remake

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Jake Gyllenhaal plays an unflappable bouncer with a murky past in the remake of Road House. Our review of a raucous, glossy action flick:

Doug Liman’s remake of Road House is currently better known, perhaps, for all the drama surrounding it – producer Joel Silver’s sudden departure, the bizarre accusation that the production somehow used AI to complete the film, and Doug Liman’s anger at it not getting a showing in cinemas. In one oft-quoted outburst, Liman said that his action-thriller was going to be used by Amazon-MGM to “sell plumbing fixtures” on its Prime Video streaming platform.

Strip all that away, though, and Road House is an entertaining genre romp that, at its best, mixes the two sides of Liman’s work to date – the indie filmmaker who made up-tempo dramas like Swingers and Go and the Hollywood insider who made more mainstream stuff like Mr And Mrs Smith. Like the 1989 version, Road House is about a spit-and-sawdust bar that specialises in raucous music and al fresco fist-fighting, prompting its owner to track down someone formidable enough to tone down all the mayhem.

In the original, 80s heartthrob Patrick Swayze was hired to bust heads in order to keep the peace; here, proprietor Frankie (Jessica Williams) ropes in Jake Gyllenhaal’s smiling, faintly eerie drifter, Elwood Dolton. Frankie’s beachside establishment, located in the fictional Glass Key, Florida, has some rowdy customers, but also a bigger problem: yacht-owning millionaire hoodlum’s son, Brandt (a swivel-eyed Billy Magnusson), whose band of goons have spent the past few weeks tipping over tables and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

A penniless former MMA fighter, Dolton reluctantly takes up the gig, and gradually gets drawn into the lives of the likeably abrasive characters that work in and around the sun-drenched bar – among them Charlie (Hannah Love Lanier), the precocious teen who runs a local bookstore with her father, and Ellie (Daniela Melchior), an emergency room medic whose dad happens to be a bent sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida).

Interestingly, Charlie seems more aware than everyone else that she’s in a movie – “That kinda sounds like the plot to a western,” she says when Dolton explains that he’s in town to clean up the local bar. This self-aware quality runs through much of Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry’s script, with a wry jab at the film’s title teeing up a second gag about the name of an old boat.

Liman, meanwhile, shoots the film like a broad crowd-pleaser – with its saturated colour palette, upbeat soundtrack and rapid editing, Road House vaguely resembles a 2010s-era Fast & Furious movie, albeit with much of the automotive action replaced by punchings and stabbings. (Joaquim de Almeida even played a villain in arguably the best of these – 2011’s Fast Five.)

It’s quite a contrast to the original Road House, which shared the same premise but kept the violence relatively contained; this 2024 incarnation, by contrast, grows increasingly outlandish in the final reel, and your mileage may vary with some of the later action sequences.

Anchoring all the brutal yet playful action is Gyllenhaal’s performance, which is enjoyably off-kilter. Smiling, unblinking, seemingly immune to intimidation, Dolton comes across like a jacked-up, comic book infused take on Loki, the traumatised detective in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. The more calm Dolton is, the more we start to wonder – just how unhinged is he? There’s a coiled menace beneath the surface, and waiting to see just what he’ll do when pushed gives much of the film its tension.

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Then along comes real-life MMA fighter Conor McGregor, seemingly from another movie. Fists balled, white teeth bared in a permanent rictus grin, his Knox is a berserker-type villain in the over-the-top vein of Jason Momoa’s Dante in last year’s Fast X. The difference with Dante was that Momoa could act; here, McGregor seethes and breaks everything (and everyone) in sight, but the net result is more distracting than menacing. That it’s hard to understand his dialogue – even with the assistance of some obvious ADR – suggests that Liman might have been better off making Knox a strong silent type, like Non in Superman II.

While Knox cheerfully busts heads and crashes stolen cars, the plot throws out mysteries that are easy to solve before their truths are revealed, and some late-film confrontations that are even easier to predict.

Despite all this, the hare-brained enthusiasm of Liman’s directing, the peppy dialogue, and the hypnotically spooky performance from Gyllenhaal – even characters that like him seem to find him a little ‘off’ somehow – make Road House a breezily enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Patrick Swayze never got to make a follow up to his own Road House – he had nothing to do with the 2006 straight-to-DVD sequel. As the credits rolled on this 21st century incarnation, though, I found myself hoping we’ll one day see more of Gyllenhaal’s Dalton – a modern-day Jekyll and Hyde with fists of fury and washboard abs.

Road House is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.

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