Prime Video's Road House Review: Jake Gyllenhaal And Conor McGregor Are Magnificent In This Funny And Brutal Remake

 Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor in Road House.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor in Road House.

If I’m challenged to pick my favorite filmmakers, Shane Black will forever be in my Top 5. With a resume that includes titles like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys, Black is a genius when it comes to crafting tight, pulp mysteries with “buddy” leads who always deliver banter and comebacks that are the perfect blend of badass and smartass. His movies play in the muck – chock full of bloody violence and foul language – but there is also a deep well of effortless wit.

Road House

Jake Gyllenhaal Shirtless in Road House
Jake Gyllenhaal Shirtless in Road House

Release Date: March 21, 2024
Directed By: Doug Liman
Written By: Anthony Bagarozzi & Charles Mondry
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Billy Magnussen, Jessica Williams, Joaquim de Almeida, Austin Post, Conor McGregor
Rating: R for violence throughout, pervasive language and some nudity.
Runtime: 121 minutes

This is admittedly a strange way to start my review of director Doug Liman’s Road House, because as far as I know, Black had absolutely nothing to do with the feature. But as a fan who annually celebrates Shane Black Christmas, I am well-tuned into his voice, and the new remake of the Patrick Swayze-led cult classic very much sings with it. A glance at the credits help this make sense – as Joel Silver is a producer (having previously produced all four movies mentioned in the previous paragraph), and the script is co-written by Anthony Bagarozzi (the co-writer of The Nice Guys) and Chuck Mondry (who has been working with Black for years on a developing Doc Savage adaptation). But beyond that minutia/logic, what’s most important is that the familiar voice a terrific choice for the material, as the film is ultimately a super successful blend of kick-ass and hilarious.

Skirting around some of the weirdness in the plot of the original (I'm still not clear on how a bouncer gets famous for being a good bouncer), the remake re-envisions the Road House protagonist as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Elwood Dalton – an ex-UFC fighter who has a hustle going using his notorious reputation to scare off would-be challengers at underground competitions and rake in prize money without lifting a finger. It’s an act that catches the attention of Florida bar owner Frankie (Jessica Williams), who offers him a job at her out-of-control establishment. He initially says no, but he reconsiders when thinks the job may give his life some purpose.

Dalton’s calm demeanor, in combination with his vicious punches and kicks, quickly gets people talking in the small town of Glass Key, and patrons of the Road House start to behave – but it is success that also earns ire. Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), the son of an imprisoned-but-still-powerful local kingpin, has a vested interest in the bar’s failure and sale in order to complete a massive land development deal. All stops are pulled out when our hero gets in his way, and when the villains take things too far, sending in a mercenary maniac named Knox (Conor McGregor) to ruin the establishment for good, Dalton decides that he needs to burn Brandt’s world down.

Road House is a smart remake with a properly displayed respect for the original.

As a remake, Road House is smartly constructed, as fealty isn’t paid to the 1989 version by having the story play out exactly the same beat-for-beat. The two films share the same vaguely worded logline, but the 2024 movie puts a new spin on the story while not feeling obligated to introduce a new version of Sam Elliott’s character or have throat-ripping being the center stage move for the action (and don’t let that last bit worry you: there are plenty of other examples of special signature violence). It’s the kind of remake you can double-feature with the original and not feel like you’re getting the exact same cinematic experience.

Story-wise, it loses a bit of steam toward the end of its second act, as new wrinkles are added into the narrative to bolster the stakes when the stakes are already clear, but it rediscovers its footing just in time for the launch of the explosive third act, which is a savage delight. The film is also never not compelling thanks to its rough charm, clever dialogue, and two brilliant performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor (in a head-turning acting debut).

Jake Gyllenhaal does great things with an unexpected energy, and Conor McGregor delivers what will be remembered as one of the year's greatest breakout performances.

Road House is a movie that very much takes advantage of Gyllenhaal’s talent for intensity, as Dalton becomes a scary beast when he disappears into his own anger, but what makes the actor’s turn particularly great is confidence so powerful that it translates to a kind of silly/sociopathic nonchalance. He knows the power of his own rage, but he’s the ultimate bouncer who cools instead of escalates, and bringing that unflappable calmness into a showdown with a full crew of troublemakers is magnetic. Gyllenhaal finds the perfect level of cool.

McGregor, on the other hand, is on the complete opposite end of the energy spectrum, and it’s a phenomenal thing to witness. Knox is a character more aptly described as a chaos demon than a criminal enforcer, as he moves through the world violently opposing any interest than his own (his first scene has him strolling through Italy naked after exiting the window of a married lover and setting a massive fire amid his effort to acquire new clothes). It’s not exactly the most challenging part from a dramatic perspective, but McGregor has standout personality and presence that make the role shine, and he walks away from Road House as the most unforgettable aspect.

Road House never pulls its punches, and it's a brutal good time.

Of course, Conor McGregor’s history as a professional UFC fighter is also a big positive for the production, as the big third act fight between Knox and Dalton will likely be remembered as one of the best action-centric cinematic showdowns when we get to the end of 2024, but that’s just the cherry on the sundae. With a resume that includes The Bourne Identity and Edge Of Tomorrow, Doug Liman is a seasoned genre director, and he works magic with editor Doc Crotzer to craft sequences that are both ferocious and fun. Contrasting beautiful shots of beaches and blue ocean, there is a hefty dose of Florida slime and grime, with excellent injections of intensity delivered with smooth moves into first-person perspective camera work. Liman finds the sweet spot between brutal and awesome.

It’s a shame that Road House isn’t getting a theatrical release, as it’s a movie that would be best enjoyed amid a raucous, “into it” crowd – but that would just be a bonus, as this is a film that has the energy independently to bring that vibe to you even watching it alone in your living room. It’s a thrilling joy and one of the most straight-up enjoyable movies to be released so far in this young year.