I’m just a girl, standing in front of a movie, asking it to forgive her for repeatedly saying it looks sh-tty both to its face and behind its back. 


I have been hard on the concept of a Road House remake, in general, and on the remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal, specifically, but I am here to eat crow: Road House (2024) is a good movie. Well, no, wait. It’s not a good movie, not like Fargo is a good movie or Hud is a good movie (though at times, Road House reminded me of Fargo and Hud); in some ways, Road House is a bad movie. But it’s the good kind of bad, technically well made with its own distinctive style, and smart about the ways in which it is dumb, much like its predecessor, 1989’s neo-Western pulp classic, Road House starring Patrick Swayze. 


In this Road House, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Elwood Dalton, a former UFC fighter who maybe killed a guy in the ring. At the very least, he maimed someone so badly no one wants to fight him anymore, and he makes money by showing up at underground cage matches and collecting the pot when his opponent inevitably forfeits rather than risk fighting him. This is the critical difference between Swayze-Dalton and Gyllenhaal-Dalton. Swayze’s Dalton is a man searching for meaning; Gyllenhaal’s Dalton is a man doing penance. He has the core Dalton qualities—kindly, polite, afraid of his own temper—but his origins and reasoning are his own, not a copy-paste of Swayze’s Dalton but a new character Gyllenhaal can occupy within his own screen persona. This Dalton is charming but also cuckoo bananas in a way that only Gyllenhaal, who has a knack for playing off-putting weirdos, can play it.


Which is the most important thing to know about this new Road House—IT IS NOT A REMAKE. I repeat, this is NOT a remake. Nor is it a sequel (there already is a Road House 2, from 2006 and starring Jonathan Schaech. On this, I shall say no more). Road House (2024) is a RIFF, it treats Road House as its own genre, and it uses the genre elements of Road House to tell a familiar story in a new context with a new Dalton. This is both the film’s greatest strength—take it as a riff, and you’re in for a great time—but it’s also the film’s biggest mistake: they should have changed Dalton’s name. The difference between riff and remake would be better underscored by renaming the protagonist. Oh well.

As is, Dalton is approached by Frankie (Jessica Williams), who owns a roadhouse called Road House in the Florida Keys which has recently been plagued by a bad element. Dalton is at first reluctant, but a failed suicide attempt leaves him with nowhere else to go. This Dalton is super dark, you guys! 

Pictured: Dalton in Road House (2024)


From there, Road House (2024) is recognizable as a “Road House movie”. There’s a bar, there’s a small town, it’s Americana by way of bad news and economic crisis. This time, though, instead of fighting for the soul of Main Street America against encroaching shopping malls, Dalton has to stop evil real estate developers from tearing down the ski resort beachside bar. The locals are colorful and apparently endlessly musically talented—there is a revolving door of bands playing at the Road House every night. There is no Wade Garrett, but there is Charlie (Hannah Love Lanier), a precocious kid with a baseball bat. And there is a pretty doctor, Ellie (Daniela Melchior), who patches up our wounded hero.

The standouts of Road House (2024) are Jessica Williams, who brings a toughness and commitment to Frankie that makes her desire to stay put believable, and Billy Magnussen as Ben Brandt, the aforementioned evil real estate developer. Magnussen can play these asshole characters in his sleep, but he comes through with some spectacular line deliveries and wild-eyed craziness that matches Dalton’s calm perfectly. Also, in just one dialogue exchange, he and Williams seed a tangible lifetime of grievance between their characters that makes the core conflict work even better—they’re both fighting for their families’ legacies, and circumstance has made them enemies. But they also grew up together, and know each other so well, and you can FEEL that familiarity even through their mutual dislike. And shoutout to Arturo Castro, who plays a goon who just wants to like, ride his motorcycle and make friends. He’s not here for all this drama, and he rapidly becomes one of the film’s recurring highlights. 


Conor McGregor, though, is something else. He’s at once terrible and perfectly cast. In any other film, his performance would be disastrous, but as the chief goon in a “Road House movie”, he fits in perfectly. All McGregor has to do is deliver on being believably bonkers and willing to fight to the death, and that, he does. This is not a “good performance” in the normal course of “good performances”, but it is a “good Road House performance”. And he’s cranked up to an emotional 11 from the jump, which again, matches well with Gyllenhaal’s cucumber-cool performance. When Dalton goes cuckoo bananas, he doesn’t start yelling, he just gets that glint in his eye that all of Gyllenhaal’s weirdo characters get, really, he’s SO good at this.

The other knock on Road House (2024) is the use of “be nice”, the legendary catchphrase from the original film. This iteration uses whatever pieces of the Road House canon make sense, which does include a few memorable lines, but “be nice” does not make an appearance until late in the film, and it is so obviously thrust in via additional dialogue recording. It really seems like they forgot about “be nice” entirely, and then remembered at the last second to put it in. But they didn’t need to! This isn’t a “be nice” Dalton. Gyllenhaal’s Dalton isn’t a philosopher, and he doesn’t have personal mantras. He doesn’t NEED a catchphrase. It’s a weird and glaring inclusion that feels like a studio note. 


Accepting Road House as its own genre makes me want a million of these, and I legit cannot decide which is more tantalizing—more of Gyllenhaal’s Dalton traipsing around small-town America, or if every “Road House movie” has different filmmakers and stars putting their own spin on it. 1989’s Road House is a perfect film, it achieves everything it sets out to, plus a bunch of other things it did not mean to achieve at all. Road House (2024) is nearly perfect, outrageously stupid one moment and incredibly accomplished the next, just a real hootin’, hollerin’, bar-stompin’ good time. Consider the crow eaten.

Road House is now streaming exclusively on Prime Video.