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“ROAD HOUSE” (2024) Movie Review: an inspired and highly entertaining, albeit reckless, revival of a beloved guilty pleasure

Far more than a simple action movie filled with gratuitous violence, the 1989 cult classic Road House was originally conceived as a thoughtful examination of how to diffuse tense situations without resorting to violence. Patrick Swayze’s philosophical bouncer Dalton represented a new kind of action hero, one who embodied a calm, Zen-like approach to handling conflict and who only fought as an absolute last resort when pushed to his limits. This, combined with the film’s precise pacing, endlessly quotable one-liners, gloriously big hair, and Swayze’s star power elevated the film way beyond a mindless action flick into something genuinely special that still resonates with audiences today.

While it was a given that someone would eventually to try to replicate the success, tackling the revered original was always going to prove daunting given the devoted fanbase. So, does Doug Liman’s (Edge of Tomorrow, Chaos Walking) reboot live up to Rowdy Herrington’s masterpiece or does it need to be escorted outside?

The 2024 version of the story pays respectful homage to the original without going overboard. The creators understood that coasting on nostalgia or cramming in too many references would feel gimmicky or alienate newcomers unfamiliar with the source material. Instead, they include subtle homages like winks to fans that satisfy their fondness without distracting from the new narrative this version tells.

The casting overall is mostly inspired, with Jake Gyllenhaal delivering a perfectly calibrated performance as Dalton, striking the right balance between toughness and vulnerability. As the quietly capable bouncer of the Road House, he exudes a grounded masculinity free of clichéd machismo. Jessica Williams, portraying Frankie, the owner of the Road House, was also a fitting choice. Although her screen time is limited, her interactions with Dalton effectively advance the plot, subtly introducing twists and revealing key information to enrich the storyline.

At the same time, several other characters in the film appear notably less integral to the story than perhaps intended. Daniela Melchior, portraying the love interest, has limited interactions with Dalton, resulting in a diminished connection with the audience by the film’s climax. Similarly, the characters Billy (played by Lukas Gage) and Reef (played by Dominique Columbus), who Dalton selects as bouncers for The Road House, are afforded few meaningful moments within the narrative. Though there is an instance where Dalton advises Billy on combat techniques, overall, both characters have minimal impact on the storyline, primarily serving their roles within the bar setting. This was a curious decision as the original film thrived on Dalton’s evolving relationship with everyone working at the bar.

Another strange decision was to have Beau Knapp play the Vince who in the end serves as Marshall R. Teague’s Jimmy character in the original but he literally only gets a few minutes of screen time and his particular comeuppance lacks coherence, given his minor role in the story. This, coupled with the lack of assertiveness displayed by the main antagonist, Billy Magnussen’s Ben Brandt, diminishes the impact of his character, making him easily forgettable. In contrast, Ben Gazzara’s Wesley was a much more charismatic antagonist, highlighting the significant impact of a villain’s charisma on a movie’s overall success, just as crucial as that of the protagonist.

Surprisingly, despite this being his first film role, the absolute star of the show is Conor McGregor who delivers an electrifying performance as the unpredictable and maniacal Knox. He’s still got a lot to learn when it comes to acting but he exudes a magnetic charisma and swagger from the moment he appears on screen, leaning into “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle” Terminator mode a lot of the time and it jus works so well. His delivery leaves a lot to be desired but it’s still very early days and his on-screen chemistry is undeniable, promising a bright future in the film industry.

When it comes to the fights, they are entertaining to watch, especially the later ones like McGregor and Gyllenhaal’s dinghy brawl. However, much of the action felt overly staged or reliant on CGI effects, which detracted from the authenticity. While the destruction was still fun, it lacked the genuine feel of classics like Road House or most martial arts films. The point-of-view camera shots mid-fight were particularly jarring, adding nothing but clunkiness to the choreography.

Though less captivating than the cult classic that came before it, Liman’s Road House recaptures much of the fun that made the first film so endearing. The playful, self-aware tone serves the material well, acknowledging the ridiculousness inherent in the premise while reveling in imaginatively staged action spectacle. However, excessive CGI and editing verge into overkill at times. Adhering too closely to the famous “be nice” mantra of its predecessor, the story focuses too heavily on fun and brawls rather than character depth. With more emphasis on character development, the reboot could have matched the original. As is, it remains an enjoyable, if flawed, revival of a beloved guilty pleasure.

VERDICT:

Road House is available on Prime Video now.

You might also like: 5 Films To Watch After Prime Video’s ‘ROAD HOUSE’ Reboot

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