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Dan Webster reviews "Road House"

Film still of Jake Gyllenhaal as Dalton in Road House (2024).
Road House, MGM/Silver Pictures/Amazon Prime Video, 2024.
Film still of Jake Gyllenhaal as Dalton in Road House (2024).


Of all the guilty-pleasure movies that exist, Rowdy Herrington’s 1989 action-thriller Road House may be the most popular.

Not that it’s a particularly good movie. That’s the “guilty” part of the equation. As the Oxford Languages website explains, a guilty pleasure is: “something, such as a movie, television program, or piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.”

Of course, the concept of “high regard” is a matter of opinion. When I told my daughter that I was going to see Doug Liman’s Amazon Prime remake of Road House, she—a true fan of the original—was adamant.

“There is no NEW Road House,’” she texted. “There is only one Road House. And then a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal.”

Even when my wife insisted that Liman’s main cast member, the buffed-up Gyllenhaal, was—to use her words—“jacked,” my daughter demurred.

“Yes,” she admitted, “but no matter how jacked he gets, he ain’t no Swayze.”

For those of you ignorant of all things Road House, she’s referring to the late Patrick Swayze, the blend of Buddha and Bruce Lee who—in Herrington’s movie—takes on the role of head bouncer in a Missouri backwoods bar.

It’s Swayze, the popular star of such movies as Ghost and Dirty Dancing, who has the requisite charisma to make up for the 1989 film’s overall cheesy nature. And cheesy is a polite term to apply to a film that has Swayze’s character spouting dialogue such as: “Calling me 'sir' is like putting an elevator in an outhouse—it don't belong.”

Maybe the most intriguing question to pose about the new film, which isn’t so much a remake as it is a reimagining, is… why? Why would a skilled filmmaker such as Liman, who has directed such movies as Swingers, Go and the first installment of the Matt Damon Jason Bourne franchise, 2002’s The Bourne Identity, take on something so… well, pedestrian? Hard to say.

Not that his version is without some qualities. For one thing, Liman shifts his Road House setting from Missouri to the picturesque Florida Keys (though the actual filming took place in the Dominican Republic).

And the script is updated as well. Gyllenhaal plays Dalton, a former mixed-martial arts champ who is on the run, not from the authorities but from himself following a tragic title fight. He, we learn, has an anger problem.

Down on his luck, he takes a job as head bouncer at a beach bar owned by Frankie (played by Jessica Williams) that is under threat by a posse of bad-boy bikers. It’s when Dalton defeats them, rather easily, that the power behind the threat—Ben Brandt (played by Billy Magnusson), the son of a jailed mobster—calls in reinforcements.

And this might be the best thing about what Liman puts on the screen: his new enforcer, labeled simply as Knox, is played by the actual former MMA title-holder Conor McGregor. And while Gyllenhall, an Oscar-nominated actor (for his role in 2006’s Brokeback Mountain), is the film’s steady presence, it is McGregor who rushes in like a grinning second coming of Hurricane Katrina and provides the film both with energy and a sense of humor.

Make no mistake. Both versions of Road House are violent, with Swayze’s Dalton ripping out throats with aplomb and Gyllenhaal’s Dalton mirroring Lee Child’s Reacher character in the frank, direct way he delivers pre-fight warnings before breaking fingers, hands, elbows and, yes, throats, too.

In the end, the difference between the two versions of the same basic story is minimal, even if Liman’s is the more polished (and substitutes Daniela Melchoir for Kelly Lynch as the film’s romantic interest). Some fans, like my daughter, will prefer Swayze in spite of Herrington’s clumsy direction. Others will look past Gyllenhaal and revel in what McGregor brings to the screen.

Whatever. You say "po-tay-toe," I say "po-tah-toe." Or, more to the point, you say "cheddar" and I say "provolone." Cheese, after all, is cheese—whatever the variety.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for