‘Road House’ Review: More Fizzle Than Sizzle In Doug Liman’s Remake Of An Action Classic – SXSW

In the era of action films like John Wick, the bar for adrenaline-fueled entertainment has been set high. And when it comes to remakes, there exists a fine line that must be walked between regard for the original and fresh perspectives.

Doug Liman directs the remake of the classic1989 film Road House, which premiered Friday in the Headliner category at SXSW 2024. Unfortunately, this remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a lackluster and ultimately unnecessary retread of the original Patrick Swayze-starring film.

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Central to the movie is Gyllenhaal’s Dalton, a former UFC brawler grappling with his past. Struggling to get by on his reputation, Dalton catches the eye of Frankie (Jessica Williams), who owns a roadhouse in the picturesque Florida Keys. She recruits him as her new bouncer, aiming to protect her cherished establishment from a ruthless gang under the command of the local criminal overlord, Brandt (Billy Magnussen).

Despite being outnumbered, Dalton’s fighting prowess means Brandt’s henchmen stand little chance against him. However, the plot thickens with the entry of Knox (Conor McGregor), a merciless mercenary. The ensuing violent confrontations and the spiral of bloodshed turn the idyllic Keys into a battleground, presenting Dalton with challenges far beyond anything he encountered in the Octagon.

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The setting — full of promise for a formidable narrative driven by powerful conflict and redemption — becomes the background for a film surprisingly void of the action and intensity its premise promises. The few fight scenes are technically dazzling thanks to Liman’s deft direction, but they are too infrequent to either provoke or interest the audience. Added to the insult is a script that relies heavily on dialogue, yet that fails every attempt at humor.

Gyllenhaal is here made to navigate a character who, despite a backstory crafted for complexity, comes across one-dimensionally. That’s not for want of trying on Gyllenhaal’s part, but rather the result of a script that never digs deep enough for the audience to fully explore or exploit the depth of Dalton’s inner turmoil. The result is a performance that feels removed from the emotional stakes at play and makes Dalton more of a caricature than a three-dimensional figure.

The supporting cast is a clearly talented bunch but is likewise grossly underserved by the script. They are mostly reduced to plot devices, or in the best light, foils for Dalton’s journey. McGregor’s character gets it the worst. He has the cartoonish silliness of Yosemite Sam, with none of the charisma.

Moreover, the narrative itself is a shadow of its former self. The original film had a current of philosophical musings about violence, redemption and the community coming together that set it above boilerplate action. The updated version is just a run-of-the-mill action flick that follows a hunky hero who saves the day. By today’s standards, that isn’t enough because we now live in an era when good action films blend kinetic spectacle with rich storytelling,

As Liman and screenwriters Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry navigate the waters of remaking a film like Road House, it illustrates precisely what is at stake in these kinds of endeavors. While the film strives to pay respects to its source material, it really doesn’t come close to bringing anything as satisfying as the original — or bringing something to the table, really, that would at least make a person think there was a reason for the movie to exist. In spite of a few flashes of technical brilliance in its action sequences and a few tries made by its cast, this rebuilt Road House stands as a testament to just how difficult it is to capture lightning in a bottle.

Title: Road House
Festival: SXSW (Headliners)
Studio: Amazon MGM
Release date: March 21, 2024 (Prime Video)
Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriters: Anthony Bagarozzi, Charles Mondry; based on the motion picture “Road House” screenplay by David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin 
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Billy Magnussen, Jessica Williams, Joaquim de Almeida, Conor McGregor, Lukas Gage, Arturo Castro, B.K. Cannon, Beau Knapp, Darren Barnet, Dominique Columbus, Bob Menery, Catfish Jean, Kevin Carroll, Travis Van Winkle, Hannah Lanier
Running time: 1 hr 54 min

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