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“Road House” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download

Road House 2024 (via Primetweets)

“Road House” likes to explicitly reference that it thinks it’s a Western. It’s more like a cartoon.

While that may sound harsh, some of the Looney Tunes-esque qualities of this reimagining of the 1989 Patrick Swayze classic work in its favor. Especially in the first hour, when director Doug Liman and Anthony Bagarozzi & Charles Mondry are setting the table for what’s to come, there’s a fun B-movie throwback aesthetic to “Road House” that clicks for long stretches. However, once this defiantly goofy movie starts to take itself seriously, and asks us too often to do the same, the wheels come off with ridiculous twists, awkward line readings, and some of the worst fight CGI in years. Through it all, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a fun performance that goes from charming to menacing, but even that gets lost in the chaos of a movie that needed to be sweaty, grounded, and urgent to work but becomes more and more like something you’d watch on Saturday morning.

When “Road House” opens, Elwood Dalton (Gyllenhaal) has fallen from grace. We don’t know how, but we know he’s so famous and so physically imposing that he scares combatants (including Post Malone) out of a fight club ring before they even throw a punch. (And credit to Gyllenhaal and his physical trainers for making him entirely believable as a former UFC middleweight.) After a fight that gets canceled before it starts, Dalton is approached by a woman named Frankie (Jessica Williams), who owns a roadhouse in Glass Key, Florida that’s named, of course, Road House. Her establishment has been threatened by local, motorcycle-riding tough guys for weeks and she can barely stay open. She needs a bouncer. She needs Dalton.

Of course, “Road House” isn’t just about a bouncer at a bar in the Florida Keys. It turns out there’s a lot more to the violence in Frankie’s bar than the local drunks. A real estate power player named Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), who inherited an empire from a criminal father, is trying to get Frankie to shut the operation down. Dalton comes in and takes care of Ben’s lackies in a series of scenes that are pretty well-choreographed and conceived. They also set Dalton’s character as the kind of guy who drives his enemies to the hospital after he beats them up.

At said hospital, Dalton meets a doctor named Ellie (Daniela Melchior), who challenges his alleged altruism—after all, he just clogged up her ER with a bunch of idiots who wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t such a tough guy in the first place. Obviously, Ellie will be the love interest for Dalton, but the film takes forever to get there and then backs away from their relationship almost immediately, turning elements of Ellie’s life into plot twists. It’s understandable that Dalton is hesitant to be happy again given the trauma that’s revealed about his past, but the dynamic between him and Ellie is one of several in this film that feels uncertain of its own purpose. In the ‘80s movies that “Road House” so desperately wants to be, there’d be actual passion between Dalton and Ellie instead of the tentative stuff that unfolds here more out of narrative necessity.

More damaging than underwritten character dynamics is the overall tone of “Road House,” which needed to be far more tactile to be effective. This is a movie in which you need to feel the heat of the Florida Keys, the impact of a punch, the thud of a body hitting the floor. Oh, the over-crafted noises are there, but it’s all so obviously created in a CGI lab. It’s weird because the fight scenes that are quick—like the first one with the bikers, when Dalton disarms a man by making him unable to shoot, have an immediacy that works. But whenever “Road House” has to go “extended fight sequence,” you can see ALL the strings. Punches and their reactions look like cut scenes in a video game far too often, especially a long bar brawl and a boat sequence in the end that have CGI so janky that I wonder if the reason that Prime didn’t want this on a big screen was because people would be less likely to notice on a small screen.

And then there’s Conor McGregor as Knox, a sociopath who launches like he was shot out of a cannon into the back half of the movie to finish the job with Dalton. Knox brings a spark to a movie that’s getting dry, but McGregor’s performance is equally fascinating and baffling, delivered almost entirely through a massive grin like he’s doing a bit at a weigh-in before a match. He struts and smiles like an aggro Popeye, and it feels like Liman told him to go over the top and so McGregor shot to the moon. There are times when his awkward line readings sound abjectly wrong, but maybe that’s intentional? It’s a constant push-and-pull of whether or not McGregor is purposefully awkward because Knox is a sociopath or if the fighter just doesn’t yet know how to put words together on screen. Debate amongst yourselves.

As silly as it sounds, that push-and-pull between realism and cartoonish insanity that rests in McGregor’s performance is indicative of the quality of the movie overall. Gyllenhaal is making one movie—a story of an almost-Zen fighter pushed past his breaking point—while people like Magnusson and McGregor lean into the ridiculousness in the other half. The two never come together. Of course, there are a lot of ‘80s movies with grounded heroes and exaggerated villains, but this new “Road House” makes one appreciate the balance of those more. And the lack of CGI.

This review was filed from the SXSW Film Festival. It premieres on Prime Video on March 21.

Road House movie poster

Road House (2024)

Rated R

121 minutes

Cast

Jake Gyllenhaalas Elwood Dalton

Daniela Melchioras Ellie

Billy Magnussenas Ben Brandt

Jessica Williamsas Frankie

Joaquim De Almeidaas Sheriff Black

Conor McGregoras Knox

Lukas Gageas Billy

Arturo Castroas Moe

B.K. Cannonas Laura

Beau Knappas Vince

Post Malone

Director

  • Doug Liman

Screenplay

  • Anthony Bagarozzi
  • Charles Mondry

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