‘Road House’ Doesn’t Hit Hard Enough

‘Road House’ is technically competent, but fails to differentiate itself from the wider genre of action.

“Road House” is a polished remake abundant in style — but it lacks ingenuity.

Directed by Doug Liman, “Road House” takes Patrick Swayze’s eponymous 1989 action hit from Missouri backroads to the Sunshine State.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Elwood Dalton, a disgraced UFC fighter, Dalton’s desperate need for money lands him security work in the Florida Keys. At The Road House highway bar in the fictitious town of Glass Key, Dalton earns his keep bouncing ruffians from a shabby, sunnyside establishment.

Despite its simple premise, “Road House” has been rife with notoriety. Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Bourne Identity”) denounced the film’s release because the studio bypassed theaters, landing at Prime Video. Despite plans to boycott the premier, Liman quietly attended, but his statement on the “gutting” of traditional film is another example of studios shelving products to cut costs

R. Lance Hill, writer of the 1989 film, is also suing Amazon for copyright infringement against his script, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Hill’s suit alleges the new “Road House” utilized artificial intelligence for dialogue in violation against SAG-AFTRA union negotiations.

To cap off the controversies, UFC fighter Conor McGregor was cast as the film’s antagonist, Knox. McGregor’s violent past has been riddled with multiple arrests for robbery, reckless driving, assault and previous sexual assault allegations, according to BBC.

With its convoluted controversies, how does the final product fare? At its best, “Road House” is a visceral action flick caught up in an empty by-the-books narrative.

With Liman at the helm, the film is constantly in a state of motion. Liman’s rapid direction captures every kick, punch and slap with swift impact. The fight choreography is satisfying and fluid as the camera’s panning reaches the same momentum.

The downside to erratic camerawork is its questionable use in conversation. Casual interactions contain whip-pans as if they have the same intensity as bare-knuckle brawls. In attempts to imbue the mundane with adrenaline, Liman’s dizzying presentation only feels appropriate when fists come to blow. 

Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners,” “Nightcrawler”) as Elwood Dalton is equally charismatic and intimidating. With a sly smile and calm demeanor, Gyllenhaal effortlessly enacts speedy choreography. When the script’s brief drama pierces through, he offers a gravity that outpaces the film’s brazen attitude. 

On the flip side, Knox distracts with uncanny delivery. McGregor’s acting debut leaves much to be desired, relying more on his fighter physicality than any attempt at malice. A berserk thug hired to kill Dalton, Knox’s true motivation is to cause chaos. He’s a one-note villain slightly elevated by McGregor’s amateur hamminess.

The story similarly falters for juggling more than the film can support. At nearly 2 hours long, “Road House” utilizes unengaging romance and mystery to justify the length of its bar-fighting basis.

Daniela Melchior’s nurse Ellie falls to the wayside as a shallow love interest. In the same vein, “Road House” harbors a slew of characters fleshing out Glass Key, with very few given adequate depth. Each line of dialogue is laughably spoon-fed — the fights are complex but every other avenue lacks nuance.

The mystery angle about why The Road House is targeted by criminals distracts from the punch-out appeal. Unintentionally or not, the surface-level characters and plot appeal to the simplicity of ‘80s action flicks.

While the townsfolk of Glass Key feel hollow, the setting thrives with life. In more favor towards Liman’s direction, the crystalline water and scenic oceanside engage when the story runs dull.

Whether “Road House”’ measures up to its gritty predecessor or excuses its own controversy will be at the viewer’s discretion. The film excels at playing to its action roots and leaning towards the humor of its straightforward concept.

Streaming sites might be the best viewing experience for “Road House” — allowing viewers to skip through to the best parts.

“Road House,” rated R, is available now on Amazon Prime Video.

“Up to Parr” is writer Brendan Parr’s recurring movie review column

Featured image courtesy of Prime Video

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr