Movie review: 'Road House' captures fun of action classic

Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal, R) shows Billy (Lukas Gage) how to disarm a rowdy customer. Photo courtesy of Prime Video
1 of 5 | Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal, R) shows Billy (Lukas Gage) how to disarm a rowdy customer. Photo courtesy of Prime Video

LOS ANGELES, March 18 (UPI) -- It took several years before 1989's Road House was considered an action classic. The remake, on Prime Video on Thursday, recaptures the fun of the original for modern audiences.

Frankie (Jessica Williams) hires underground fighter Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) to be a bouncer at her Glass Key, Fla. bar, The Road House. Developer Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) keeps sending thugs to make trouble to force Frankie to leave.


The philosophy of Patrick Swayze's Dalton in the original was "be nice." This Dalton captures that in every fight scene by further developing the psychology of how Dalton tries to de-escalate violent situations -- until he can't avoid them.

Dalton threatens a gang's motorcycles to lure members outside the bar, and then asks if they have health insurance and where the nearest hospital is. Dalton is being sincere because he wants to be sure they're taken care of when he does what he has to do.


Of course, Road House is an action movie, so every punk proceeds to fight Dalton. That's probably accurate to real-life brawlers, whose pride will never let them stand down.

Dalton even begins with open-handed slaps before he transitions to mixed martial arts moves. He keeps his composure when someone stabs him, still giving the attacker the chance to walk away before it escalates further.

Gyllenhaal's affable demeanor adds new energy to the cinema staple of bar fights. This is also complemented when Brandt's father calls in Knox (Conor McGregor) to eliminate Dalton.

Knox is a violent muscle beast, but he's also full of smiles and having a great time making trouble.

Brandt is the kind of smarmy villain who makes you enjoy his comeuppance. Besides what he's doing to The Road House, the way he treats his own men is magnificently egregious.

Brandt makes his barber give him a shave on a boat in choppy waters, so he can get mad every time he gets cut. This is a guy who needs to go down.

The new Dalton is a former MMA fighter, and although the film waits to fully reveal his past, it won't be hard to figure out why he left the ring. The film pays off Dalton's dark past and doesn't cop out on his violent nature.


Dalton wants to avoid further violence, but these bad guys force his hand, like they always do to John Wick or Rambo. If they just left him alone, they'd have no problem, or at least no additional problems on top of Frankie not selling The Road House.

The action is not over-edited. The camera is part of the fights, following characters back and forth, which also continues in dialogue scenes. In that regard, director Doug Liman elevates the more straightforward action of the 1989 film.

Most of the action looks real as it's either the leads or their stuntmen performing choreography. A computer-generated pickup truck stunt is glaringly fake by comparison, although a crocodile looks better. Some boat stunts look like real boats crashing and exploding on the water.

The local doctor, Ellie (Daniela Melchior), is a much milder love interest than Kelly Lynch in the original. That's because the screenplay downplays the romance and eliminates any sexual tension before the actors even have a chance to play it.

So, the modern Road House trades a little steam for more sweat and rowdy fun. It's still an outrageous good time.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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