Road House (dir. Doug Liman)

By: Adam Freed

Cooperstown, New York is nestled serenely between the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, an idyllic location for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Within the historic walls of Cooperstown’s talisman attraction there exists an omission of historic proportions.  To this day, there is no mention of the “steroid era” of the 80’s and 90’s, in which oversized and artificially inflated titans bashed home runs at rates never to that point witnessed in America’s game.  Sadly, many of those goliaths of the game are paid no mind in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls.  They are ignored, erased from the existence of baseball, rather than embraced for what they were, enhanced entertainers.  Fortunately film history has made no such critical error in embracing, rather than shunning its own era of imperfect glory.  In the 1980’s Hollywood unleashed upon hungry audiences an endless supply of beautifully flawed action masterpieces that seem to hold a special place in the hearts of anyone who grew up appreciating shopping mall culture.  No film is more emblematic of the sub par excellence of that era than Road House (1989).  The Patrick Swayze fronted, paper thin plotline of a film epitomized that the American desire for mindless action entertainment simply could not be satiated.  Along with many of its genre contemporaries, Road House didn’t need to be a great film, because its greatness exceeded the sum of its parts.  Sadly for Doug Liman’s remake of the same name, times have changed.

The standard by which action excellence is measured has evolved in the past forty years.  By no means are “shoot 'em up” action films a thing of the past, just this year The Beekeeper (2024) has earned north of $150 million dollars globally, proving that the audience still exists for such fare, but nobody outside of the Statham household would assert that The Beekeeper is anything more than a “fun” afternoon watch.  Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity) very publicly fought Amazon and their Prime Video distribution decision to push his 2024 Road House “reimagining” direct to streaming.  With enough hindsight and in an honest moment, Liman may admit that Amazon made the correct decision.  The shame in what amounts to a kiddie pool depth “save the bar '' plot, is that its star Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Zodiac) is one of the most gifted actors of his talent-rich generation.  The death blow to Road House is that what is billed as an action film actually holds up quite nicely as an unintentional action comedy.  The most interesting moments in the film are by far Gyllenhaal’s impactful and sarcastic quips as he maintains his “stranger in a strange land” approach to being tasked with cleaning up the titular Florida Keys located saloon of ill repute.  Jake Gyllenhaal is certainly not the problem with Road House, and in fact, his level of dedication in transforming his body for the role is worthy of tremendous praise.

Adding to the muddled tonality of the film is the casting of famed Irish pugilist Conor McGregor, who one must admit, seems to be having an absolute blast as the painfully static “villain for villainy’s sake” Knox.  If Liman’s intent was to try to out 80’s the original film, McGregor’s over the top antagonist makes a worthy attempt to say the least.  There are moments in which the film’s action is compelling, yet Road House is never fully able to shake the clearly CG enhanced fight sequences that act as an anchor to the film’s overall impact.  There is no questioning the mass market appeal of both McGregor and Gyllenhaal as entertainers, but both here seem to be fighting in the wrong arena.  There was a time in which action movies could survive on a steady diet of broken limbs and bullet casings alone, times have changed.  There is nothing wrong with popping in a worn VHS tape and watching the late Patrick Swayze and the gang clean up “The Double Deuce” one more time.  It would be an afternoon far better spent than trying to recreate an era that seems to be gone for good. 

Target Score: 4/10    

Despite his best efforts, not even Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dalton can save this unfortunately plotted and paced remake of the 80’s action classic.  Many audiences will flock to Prime Video for Conor McGregor’s feature film debut, one that is certainly memorable, despite it being unclear what the MMA legend’s intent may have been.