‘Road House’ movie review: Jake Gyllenhaal, Conor McGregor’s fun action film tapers into silliness

Doug Liman’s popcorn movie, a remake of the 1989 Patrick Swayze-starrer, has genuinely fun ideas, but it loses control of the narrative to the point where you have more fun when you take it less seriously than how it takes itself

March 21, 2024 06:26 pm | Updated 06:27 pm IST

 Conor McGregor, Jake Gyllenhaal in a still from ‘Road House’

Conor McGregor, Jake Gyllenhaal in a still from ‘Road House’ | Photo Credit: Laura Radford/Prime Video

Remember those old-school, mid-budget popcorn action movies that Hollywood used to churn out regularly? It’s a category of pick-me-up action movies that serve just the right amount of mindless fun with the comfort of familiarity and sometimes corny but largely crowd-pleasing moments. Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest action outing, Road House, is a film meant to tickle your memories of watching those films; it wastes no time in conveying how serious it will take itself when minutes into the film, a character asks Gyllenhaal’s character if his character’s situation seems more like a plot of a Western movie, “in which local townsfolk send for a hero to help clean up the rowdy saloon.”

And that’s just the plot of Road House, the 1989 Patrick Swayze-starring B action film, which in its own way paid tribute to Western movies, and gained a cult following in the years to come. Gyllenhaal’s remake, directed by Doug Liman, retains all of the original film’s popular tropes but has tremendous fun, at least initially, in tweaking things just a tiny bit and sometimes going outrageously over-the-top with its antics.

Road House (English)
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Conor McGregor, Billy Magnussen.
Runtime: 121 minutes
Storyline: An ex-UFC fighter takes on the job as a bouncer in a roadhouse in the Florida Keys, where things take a serious turn

Everything is done to be a little extra. For instance, unlike Swayze’s James Dalton, Gyllenhaal’s Elwood Dalton is not a mystery man from New York City who knows how to fight; this guy is an ex-UFC fighter from the Florida Keys who goes from cute to psycho in the blink of an eye. This problematic quality gets him a job in the small town of Glass Key to protect a roadhouse owned by Frankie (Jessica Williams) named Road House. In fact, the very scene in which Frankie meets Dalton has dramatic expositions. After scaring off Post Malone’s fiery boxer Carter and treating a stab wound like a toothpick prick (Swayze stitched the wound; Gyllenhaal puts tape over it), we see Dalton hit the brake on an impulsive suicide attempt on a railway track, and you know that a flashback on his trauma is waiting to come.

You feel a certain contrivance and urgency in how the other lead characters are introduced and fleshed out throughout the film. Billy Magnussen plays Ben Brandt, the rich brat who is the real reason behind all the troubles at Road House, and he enters while torturing his barber and his yacht’s captain by choosing the most rocky part of the boat for a close shave. Conor McGregor plays Knox, a maniac sent to sweeten things up for Ben, and the details of his entrance are so outlandish it’s better left unrevealed.

Together, these three edgy men do mad, mad things, while a forced love track between Dalton and a doctor, Ellie (Daniela Melchior), comes and goes. The cherry on the top is the inclusion of Charlie (Hannah Love Lanier), an innocent young girl minding her father’s bookstore who you immediately know is going to get into trouble later. Everything is so tailor-made and perfectly arranged that you can see the twists from a mile away, even if you aren’t familiar with the 1989 original.

Conor McGregor in a still from ‘Road House’

Conor McGregor in a still from ‘Road House’ | Photo Credit: Laura Radford

To the film’s credit, there’s ample comedic relief to break the bore, but when the plot tapers into utter silliness, you are left confused about the film’s motivations. One begins to wonder if this is a film that banks solely on a purported shtick of nostalgia baiting the fans of the original, the only addition being Gyllenhaal’s goodwill from playing such roles. And while Elwood’s characterization inadvertently makes you curious, Gyllenhaal comes across as a misfit, especially after Conor’s entry. For all the backstory and hype Elwood gets, you hardly feel the lunacy in the action sequences, which is quite disappointing given this is the Southpaw actor playing such a character while pitted against a real-life UFC champion. In fact, Conan, as this seemingly coked-up menace, lights up the screen much more in his later scenes.

Road House is a popcorn film with some genuinely fun ideas, but it loses control of the narrative to the point where you have more fun when you take it less seriously than how it takes itself. And director Liman is right when he says this is a film for the theatres; the luxury of a pause button might make it an ordeal to go through it.

Road House is currently streaming on Prime Video

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