My Experience with Road House

My Experience with Road House

When looking at pop culture today, a lot of entertainment coverage focuses on properties from an earlier time, namely the 1980s, that have been remade or reimagined into something new today. Ranging from Cobra Kai to Top Gun: Maverick to the last two Ghostbusters films, a lot of people are looking to dive back and remember things from their past lives in a fun and entertaining manner. This past month, another slightly lesser-known film was reimagined into a brand new piece of entertainment: Road House. It was already hamstrung by the circumstances under which it was released, being sent directly to Amazon Prime, as well as the fact that the director of the film, Doug Liman, boycotted the premiere over his stance that it should have been released into theaters. Road House also does not have mass appeal in the way the other franchises mentioned have. So that begs two questions: what is Road House and why remake it now?

Road House was a film from 1989, opening to modest box office success and middling reviews, but it has since become a cult classic, thanks in part to many memorable storylines, moments, and even individual quotes that are present in the film. It tells the story of Dalton, a legendary bouncer who is called in to act as the enforcer of a rowdy Missouri bar called “The Double Deuce,” and ends up incurring the wrath of a local businessman who rules the town with an iron fist. When asking my parents about the film, as they were the ones who first told me about it, my mom replied that the biggest reason why this film was so memorable was that Dalton has been remembered as being “a tough guy with a sense of order,” and that Patrick Swayze was one of the biggest stars in the world at that point, thanks to hit films like this one and Dirty Dancing, but also a surprisingly thriving musical career. 

Having seen the film, I can safely say that I totally understand why this film is not only so fondly remembered by certain people, but also why Swayze was a huge star. As Dalton, he injects every scene with an effortless sense of cool, especially the sequence in which he lays out the rules for the other bouncers to follow while he is working there, the most important one being, no matter how difficult and rowdy things get, “be nice.” As for the rest of the film, it is enjoyably ridiculous from start to finish, and a lot of it coasts on the charm of the actors, as well as the writing, which is in itself a double-edged sword. Some lines are well-delivered and genuinely awesome, while others had me dying laughing at the fact that the line was even written, nonetheless said. That is the key to enjoying the original Road House, to laugh and enjoy how ridiculous it can be, and the fact that there is some room for improvement does lend itself to the idea of remaking it. 

When looking at the newer film, released 35 years later, with Jake Gyllenhaal taking over the role of Dalton, it contains the same general premise, but several details have changed. A few of these include changing the setting from Missouri to Florida and changing Dalton’s past from being a bouncer to a disgraced UFC fighter. The latter decision, I am positive, was made so that the producers could cast UFC fighter Conor McGregor, in his film debut, as the physical threat against Dalton. When talking to my dad about how he felt this version stacked up to the original film, he said that it actually “stacks up well against the original film,” saying that the slightly more comedic approach worked for him, as well as some of the new characters, such as Charlie, a young girl who runs a local bookstore with her father, and the Florida Keys location. 

As mentioned above, since the original film is fun but not perfect, it actually makes sense to pitch a reimagining of the film, keeping what worked, but also taking steps to improve some of its failings. That being said, when one changes so much from the original source material, in the way this film does, they can risk alienating the fans of the older property. With all of that said, I enjoyed this new version, finding it to be a better-made film in a lot of ways, with creatively filmed action scenes and a very cheeky sense of humor, but I would say I had the same amount of enjoyment that I got from the first film. Gyllenhaal fully commits to the role of Dalton, probably more than he needed to for something like this, playing a slightly more unhinged and closed-off version of the nice guy bouncer. I also loved Arturo Castro as one of the henchmen of the film’s villain, who cannot resist being good-mannered, even as he is being yelled at, threatened, and beaten up. As for McGregor, I would not say he is a great actor, but he is well-suited for the role of a crazed bad guy. 

Even though I enjoyed both of these films, it is curious why the film was remade now, as well as why Amazon decided not to promote it as much as they could have, especially considering that, as a modestly budgeted action film, it could have turned a profit for them. At the same time, it is so different from the original that those who knew it, and saw the trailer, may not have responded in a positive way. People nowadays look back at the original fondly, not for the story, but for Swayze’s Dalton, and the iconic aspects of the original movie ranging from the speeches about his moral code to the sleazy vibe of the location that people enjoy in an ironic, ridiculous way. Finally, I will say, for those of you who decide to check out both for yourself and disagree with me, I encourage you to “be nice.”


Photo by Patrick Tomasso