Shitty Movie Sundays: Road House (2024)

Road House, the original from 1989, occupies hallowed ground here at Shitty Movie Sundays, in the top spot of the Watchability Index. It’s an unassailable movie, the embodiment of SMS’s informal slogan, “All bad movies are shitty, but not all shitty movies are bad.” From beginning to end, it’s an absurdist romp into the excesses of contemporary Hollywood action, the purest expression of the golden age of the genre that was the 1980s. There was little possibility that the 2024 remake would be better or more engaging, so I’m not going to hold it to the original’s standards.

Released just a couple of weeks ago after a decade of development hell, Road House comes to us from screenwriters Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry, and was helmed by Doug Liman.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Elwood Dalton, a psychotic violence junkie who solves every single one of his problems with beatings. That’s no exaggeration. Throughout the entire film, Dalton is a wound spring ready to explode on anyone who breathes on him noticeably. The man is such a danger to society that he should be locked away, probably for the rest of his life, and yet there he is, this movie’s hero.

For whom is he heroing? A whole bunch of supporting characters that only get developed in passing, as if they were annoyances Liman needed to get through so he could show Dalton kicking someone’s ass. It’s impressive how little shrift these characters are given in a movie that clocks in at over two hours long.

The most important of these unimportant characters is Frankie (Jessica Williams), the owner of the titular Road House, on fictional Glass Key in Florida (filming took place at a purpose-built set in the Dominican Republic). The place is more of a giant tiki bar than what one pictures as a gnarly road house, but whatever. Frankie has been having trouble lately with a small gang of bikers who have been coming in every night to wreck the place. Law enforcement has been no help, so Frankie has been forced to seek out a tough-as-nails bouncer to handle her issues. Enter Dalton.

The trouble at the Road House isn’t organic. Local rich boy and real estate developer/crime lord, Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen), has his eye on the property, and has been employing the thugs to make Frankie want to sell. At first, Dalton is baffled why someone would be interested in possessing some of the most valuable real estate in the country, but it doesn’t matter all that much what the reasons are. His job is to kick ass.

Dalton does so with such ruthless efficiency that reinforcements are called in, in the form of Knox (Conor McGregor), an equally disturbed fighter who relishes his damaged personality much more than Dalton does. Throw in a love interest for Dalton, Ellie (Daniela Melchior), Road House 2024 movie posterwho was also left underdeveloped, and the stage is set. We all know where this is going. At first, all the violence is just business, but by the final act, it’s personal, leading to a bloody denouement where Dalton and Knox figure out who has the biggest cock.

Oh, if only things were that simple. Because most of the players are left one-dimensional and expendable, the heavy lifting in the film is done by Gyllenhaal, and, to a lesser extent, McGregor.

This being McGregor’s first foray into acting, I didn’t expect much. During fight scenes he’s at his best. While, during scenes of dialogue, he’s a cartoonish baddie.

Gyllenhaal is the true curiosity in this movie. He goes through most of the film with a silly smirk on his face, as if he’s privy to a joke no one else gets. The character is a damaged individual, owing to him beating his opponent to death in a UFC fight, but that one incident does little to explain just how creepy the character is. Jake went too far with the internal guilt of the character. He’s not someone dealing with the guilt of what he’s done, but what he continues to do throughout the entire movie.

Dalton isn’t in every scene, but his character is constructed in a way that one could think of him as an unreliable narrator. In fact, the movie gets more fun if one does that. Dalton is so violent, so dangerous, and so crazy, that one can picture the film as what the world looks like through his eyes. All the polite people in the movie, who greet him with smiles and respect, are actually terrified of him. Their mouths may be smiling, but their eyes are begging for any excuse to stay away from him. He is a man who invites chaos into his life because he can never let anything go. It’s not long after he arrives that it becomes clear his job is a threat to his very life. Who in the world continues to work security at a bar after thwarting multiple murder attempts? No one. Not a single person, anywhere.

But, again, watch this movie as if Dalton’s insanity is keeping him from seeing reality, and it makes perfect sense. Everywhere he goes the world is divided into those trying to kill him, and those trying to steer clear. Frankie made a huge mistake when she hired this man.

Where Road House falls flat, though, is in objective quality. Those underdeveloped supporting characters place a substantial burden on the story, and that is just as underdeveloped. Liman and company went all in on the fighting, hoping it would carry the movie. It doesn’t, for many reasons. The major problem, I believe, was the heavy use of CGI in the fights. The idea was to make the fighting appear more realistic, but it does not do so. Every punch lands like a sledgehammer on a cinderblock, like an overcorrection of Sonny Corleone’s phantom punch in The Godfather. It looks fake, because it is fake. All that training and nutrition Gyllenhaal and McGregor went through for this movie, and it’s wasted in fight scenes no more believable than a lightsaber duel.

Expectations were much higher for this movie than they should have been. That said, Road House is a joyless slog, featuring a hero who is so frightening and murderous he’s impossible to root for, with action pressed through such a thick CGI wringer it may as well have been a cartoon. Road House is a movie that trades in on a popular name, delivering to audiences a product that has little respect for its source material, or for the poor folks suckered into watching it. Not only is this new Road House not a contender for the top spot in the Index, it falls into the lower half, displacing Bunker: Project 12 at #319. Yuck.

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