Film Review: Road House is trashy escapism that revels in its own dirty masculinity

Whilst some of the beats are the same between Doug Liman‘s surprising take on Rowdy Herrington’s resilient 1989 trashy actioner of the same name, Road House 2024 proves removed enough to justify its existence as a similarly-themed junky piece of escapism that revels in its own dirty masculinity.

Jake Gyllenhaal shares the same name as Patrick Swayze’s Dalton, but the latter’s blue jeaned attire is nowhere to be seen on the more tropically-dressed iteration of the character here – that is when Gyllenhaal bothers to wear a shirt; the titular Road House is now a beachfront Tiki bar in the Florida keys, as opposed to the honky-tonk Missouri vibe of the original; and Dalton’s no longer a former NYC cooler with a PHD, but an ex-UFC fighter living out of his car whilst threatening to beat up the likes of Post Malone, who cameos here as a would-be opponent who isn’t willing to take on Dalton’s legendary fists.

Story is ultimately secondary though, as Liman’s enthusiastic (and homoerotic) crowd-pleaser thrives on its aesthetic of its attractive cast and the variety of ways Dalton can inflict pain on the many crims who frequent Road House, whose owner, Frankie (Jessica Williams), employs Dalton to act as her bouncer.  There’s also a corrupt developer in proceedings, Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen, reminding us once again that he has the smarm to execute villainy in an effortless capacity), who wants the land Road House currently occupies, and his punch-first-talk-later righthander Knox (MMA powerhouse Conor McGregor, making the most of his feature debut), who dolls out one-liners and fierce hits in rapid succession across the film’s surprisingly brisk 121 minutes.

Whilst McGregor’s casting is of the stunt variety, there’s no denying that his cheeky, scene-chewing energy is perfect for the grungy film Road House ultimately is.  From his behind-baring entrance to his climactic beatdown opposite the equally capable Gyllenhaal, McGregor’s wide-eyed, questionably fuelled performance is predictably void of subtlety, but such a film as this doesn’t require nuance or depth, and his swaggering presence consistently entertains; even if his delivery takes you aback in all its lunacy.

The film never exactly shocks with where it travels and who double-crosses who, and the film’s attempt at a romance angle between Dalton and local nurse Ellie (Daniela Melchior) doesn’t exactly generate much heat (which, considering how the actors look, is surprising), but when Liman directs his combative sequences with a blend of his Bourne Identity grit and the coked-out energy of his oft-forgotten ’99 comedy Go, and so often connects in the process, audiences should be more than happy to get in the ring and take a few hits of this robust, sexy scrimmage.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Road House is streaming on Prime Video from March 21st, 2024.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.