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Road House review: "Lacks the grungy vibe of the original but Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor rock"

 Road house 2024.
Road house 2024.

At one point in Doug Liman’s reimagining of the 1989 Patrick Swayze punch-up, the musclebound Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) growls: "No one ever wins a fight."

Well, that’s not quite true in a bruising, bone-shattering blockbuster that updates the original with some sunny locations and the movie debut of Irish UFC fighter Conor McGregor. Getting back into the same square-jawed shape he managed for Southpaw (2015), Gyllenhaal’s Dalton is a moody ex-UFC fighter haunted by his past.

Sleeping in a car and without even a mobile phone to his name, he’s at rock bottom - until, that is, bar owner Frankie (Jessica Williams) implores him to come down to her joint in the Florida Keys to clean up the scum and villainy that is currently ruining her business.

After a near-death encounter with a train, Dalton takes a Greyhound coach to the Sunshine State – arriving with a suitcase on wheels, bizarrely – and he’s soon donning a floral shirt and showing just how handy he is with his fists. An early encounter with some goons is particularly amusing: after beating them all to a pulp, he then generously drives them all to the nearest hospital.

Indeed, for a film that isn’t exactly the most sophisticated work you’ll see this year, Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry’s script comes blessed with some funny lines: "What are you whittling?" says one brute to another, as he carves out some wood with a knife. "A stick," comes the reply. "What’s it gonna be?" says the first thug. "A smaller stick." It’s a random exchange, but an enjoyable one.

Though this remake was produced by action veteran Joel Silver, who was also behind the original, it has been updated considerably. Gone is the grimy honky-tonk bar in Missouri, replaced by a more upmarket watering hole. Likewise, the sexist portrayal of women and casual nudity has largely been banished, even if the plot’s basic template has been retained.

Road House (2024)
Road House (2024)

This time, Dalton finds a home on a leaky houseboat, not a farm. Meanwhile, transposing the story to Florida, with its beautiful aquamarine coastal views, gives the film a more arresting visual palette than its predecessor. It also allows Liman (The Bourne Identity, American Made) and his writers to set up plenty of action on the water, including one neat moment when the film’s wild-eyed villain, Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen, amusingly OTT), is being shaved on the deck of a catamaran by a very nervous barber.

Road House really picks up when hired hand Knox (McGregor) arrives, in one of the most arresting entrances you’ll ever see – naked, walking through a market, causing havoc. Quite an introduction. Hired by Brandt’s incarcerated father, who feels his son isn’t running his empire well enough, this tattooed, bearded monster – sporting a pair of purple trousers when he finds some clothes – is soon on Dalton’s tail.

Despite his lack of previous screen experience, McGregor is charismatic enough to go up against Gyllenhaal. He’s funny, too, picking up a golf club at one point and yelling, ‘Been a while since I’ve been clubbing!’ as he takes out multiple opponents.

Sadly, Liman’s Road House doesn’t have the same easygoing vibe as the original (much of which was down to Swayze’s laconic turn). Instead, it relies on some big-scale stunts. Some are impressive, like the moment Dalton is scooped up in the back of a pick-up and thrown over the side of a bridge and into the water below. There’s also some major speedboat action, which Liman orchestrates with real aplomb.

Unfortunately, the film’s connective tissue isn’t that engaging. Dalton befriends the owners of a local book store under threat, including youngster Charlie (Hannah Lanier), but it’s hardly thrilling. Likewise, his relationship with local medic Ellie (Daniela Melchior) – echoing a plotline from the 1989 film – doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing, even with her character’s connection to the villains.

From End of Watch to Ambulance and The Covenant, Gyllenhaal has frequently proved how good he is in action movies, and he’s typically watchable as 'the world’s most notorious fighter’. It’s just a shame the script is as robust as soggy tissue paper; Brandt’s desire to shut down Frankie’s bar is anything but compelling, while Dalton’s traumatic backstory lacks any emotional heft.

In the end, Road House is a solid actioner, a frolic that Liman marshals competently. This is a fun Friday-night fight-fest, best enjoyed with a few bevvies – brash, loud, knockabout and liable to leave you with a cauliflower ear or two.


Road House is streaming on Prime Video from March 21.