‘Road House’ Redux: Jake Gyllenhaal’s High-Octane Remake Treads the Line Between Homage and Parody


Imagine an era when Hollywood regularly furnished audiences with mid-range budget flicks laden with action, one-liners, and just the right sprinkle of ludicrous plotlines to make for a bombastically fun cinema experience. “Road House,” Jake Gyllenhaal’s newest action film endeavor, lands firmly in this tradition – evoking memories of a time when such movies were staple theater fare. It nods to its roots more directly than most: mere minutes in, a character alludes to the Western genre, asking Gyllenhaal’s protagonist if he’s the heroic type dispatched to tame the town’s notorious tavern.

This self-referential beginning cues us into the nature of “Road House,” which is, effectively, a modern retelling of the 1989 Patrick Swayze-anchored actioner of the same name. The original film, itself a hat tip to the Westerns of yore, has since become a B-movie legend, cherished in cult circles. In this energetic remake by director Doug Liman, the core elements of the Swayze classic are present but intentionally overhauled to accentuate the absurdities.

Doubling down on extravagance is key here. Gyllenhaal’s Elwood Dalton is not the enigmatic peacekeeper from New York with a penchant for fisticuffs; instead, he’s a former UFC fighter hailing from the Florida Keys. This Dalton can flip from amiable to unhinged in a heartbeat – a trait which bizarrely qualifies him for the role of bouncer at the Road House, a lively bar in the sleepy town of Glass Key owned by Frankie (Jessica Williams). The characters burst onto the screen with embellished drama, such as Dalton’s abrupt halting of a potential suicide on railroad tracks, which hints at heavy backstory soon to unfold.

The film wastes no time conjuring its peculiar universe, where the ancillary cast is rolled out with urgency and overdramatized flair. Billy Magnussen enters the fray as Ben Brandt, the entitled villain whose careless malice begets chaos, revealed in his sadistic choice to force a shave on his barber amidst the rocky sways of his yacht. Conor McGregor surfaces as Knox, a ferocious wildcard added to sweeten the nefarious brew, with an entry that’s best left unspoiled for its sheer flamboyance.

Caught in this trio’s lunatic crosshairs is a subplot of romance between Dalton and Ellie (Daniela Melchior), a local doctor whose interactions with our protagonist flit in and out. Even the inclusion of Charlie (Hannah Love Lanier), an innocent young girl managing her father’s bookstore, feels deliberately contrived to presage her inevitable entanglement in the oncoming troubles.

The movie parades its twists and turns so pronouncedly that, even to those unacquainted with the original, nothing comes as a surprise. McGregor’s performance, particularly, shines bright; his portrayal of an unhinged antagonist is magnetic compared to his counterpart. Despite the filmmakers’ attempt to weave a tapestry of past tribulations around Elwood, Gyllenhaal’s portrayal occasionally feels discordant, particularly in comparison to the electrifyingly authentic presence of McGregor, a seasoned UFC combatant. This disparity is most palpable in the action sequences, which, though intended to be thrilling, lack the visceral madness you would anticipate from such a cast.

Yet, “Road House” truly does have its moments, punctuated with humor that at times pierces the narrative monotony. As the plot veers into unapologetic silliness, the film’s self-awareness comes into question. It teeters on nostalgia exploitation, banking on the good faith earned by the genre and Gyllenhaal’s own track record with such roles. However, as the narrative spirals, the audience is let in on the joke, and the film reveals itself as something to be enjoyed with a grain of salt rather than a critical eye.

Liman himself has stated that “Road House” is a cinematic experience made for the big screen – and perhaps he is correct. In the tactile realm of a movie theater, “Road House” maintains its grip on the audience, whereas at home, with the allure of the pause button, its idiosyncrasies may prove challenging to endure.

“Road House” is now available for streaming on Prime Video, extending an open invitation for viewers to return to the heyday of popcorn-ready action cinema, albeit with a modern, wry wink.

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