Jake Gyllenhaal appeared alongside Patrick Swayze in Gyllenhaal’s breakout film, 2001’s Donnie Darko, and now Gyllenhaal is stepping into Swayze’s spiritual shoes with a remake of one of Swayze’s most beloved guilty pleasures. The 1989 film Road House was the sort of movie everyone presumed was bad, and they weren’t wrong. But then some people would tell some other people how much fun they had watching it, and lo and behold, a cult classic was born — one that people still reference today, even when not talking about the fact that someone decided to remake it.


That someone was Amazon, and that someone behind the camera was Doug Liman, who has quietly been one of the more groundbreaking action directors of the past two decades. Liman first broke ground by launching the Jason Bourne series, which has gone on to produce five feature films over the years, and then had a comeback with his Groundhog Day-meets-Starship Troopers movie Edge of Tomorrow in 2015. Because there is something playful and inventive about how he makes action movies, Liman gives us the goods again with his 2024 Road House remake, which makes great use of his camera, the charisma and physicality of his ripped star, and a surprisingly fun film debut from former MMA champion Conor McGregor.

The appropriateness of casting McGregor is clear in the film’s set-up, which is one of a couple useful deviations from the source material, retaining the spirit of the original while taking it in new directions. Instead of a professional bouncer, Gyllenhaal’s Elwood Dalton is a disgraced former UFC fighter. And instead of cleaning up the drunken nightly chaos of Missouri hayseeds, Dalton is kicking rude bikers out of a bar in the Florida Keys. He was recruited by Frankie (Jessica Williams), the owner of this road house, who sees him back down a bare knuckle fighter in a different bar once the fighter recognises who he is. (That figher is played, in a brief but fun cameo, by Post Malone.) Instead of pulling scams to earn a couple hundred bucks a pop, Dalton is offered a chance to make five grand a week for a month’s time, just to take out the trash that terrorises Frankie’s establishment on a nightly basis.

There’s a reason these bikers are focused so persistently on Frankie’s road house, though she doesn’t admit this to Dalton: They are trying to run her out of business. Rich developer Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) needs to clear the last hold-out preventing him from building a resort that will cater to other rich people, not the Floridians of modest means who currently enjoy the bar’s nightly musical acts and general ambience. Brandt is going to throw all manner of hoodlum at the new bouncer in order to either get him to leave or to kill him, up to and including an imported psychopath named Knox (McGregor), but they may have underestimated Dalton’s quickness with a crippling punch – and his sense of resolve. What starts as just a job threatens to become more personal when Dalton falls for the local doctor who stitches him up (Daniela Melchior), who of course also happens to be the daughter of the corrupt sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida) in cahoots with Brandt.

If you thought you didn’t need the original Road House or its remake, you’d be wrong for a couple reasons. First and foremost is what Gyllenhaal, ridiculously sculpted for a man who will turn 44 this year, brings to the role first made famous by Swayze. Gyllenhaal has a way of smiling and bantering that barely conceals his imminent intention to break a bone in your throat, and he uses every bit of that personality to display both the character’s charm and his lethality. He looks amazing both with or without one of his series of designer silk shirts, and there’s a mystery to him that works perfectly for this drifter role.


However, we wouldn’t believe him for a second if his fighting skills weren’t equal to his presence. And here’s where Liman’s inventiveness as a stager of action comes in. The director has a keen grasp of the spatial dynamics of a fight scene, and his decision to place cameras where they have no business being only enhances this. As the cameras are strapped on to various combatants, and zoomed into the thick of the fight when they’re not, it places the viewer right in the middle of what looks and sounds like real fisticuffs. Liman brings this approach to action set pieces that aren’t of the bloody knuckle variety, leaving the whole production with a sense of whiz-bang satisfaction.

The film does not lean heavily into any of its more standard components. Yes there is a romantic sub plot, but it is appropriately cursory, just enough to increase the investment for Dalton and showcase the charisma of Daniela Melchior. Liman and screenwriters Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry know where the true pleasures of this film lie, and it’s in bones going crunch and bad dudes chewing scenery.


Which brings us to McGregor. He isn’t exactly a good actor, and it often feels like he’s in a different movie from everybody else. But it’s almost like his strutting and sneering and gleefully destroying people and things is a case of his character saying the movie’s quiet part out loud. Road House is not Shakespeare, it’s a movie where people end up in hospital from a few well placed punches and kicks. McGregor knows this, and he seems ready to come back for an actual sequel to Road House, or something of the same ilk.


Road House is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

7 / 10