Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Road House Rundown

I have to confess I was never a big Patrick Swayze fan during his heyday. His romantic leading man style was not a huge draw for my schoolboy self, who was more interested in slashers and bullet-buffets. It didn't help that his biggest hit Ghost was a movie I loathed for being a piece of garbage. So while I had heard of Road House at the time, the idea of Swayze as an action star did not (ha!) sway me and so I'd never actually watched it before. It was the release of the 2024 remake on Amazon Prime that made me reconsider.

The '89 Road House has over the years become something of a cult classic. Swayze plays Dalton, a tough guy with a feared name, who is hired by bar owner Kevin Tighe to handle the violent elements that are ruining his business. With sheer presence and the occasional takedown he starts to bring order into the place. Then Dalton comes up against local big-shot Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), an extortionist and shady businessman who rules the town with an iron hand.

Very rightly it has been pointed out that Road House, while clothed in  80's garb, is really a 'Western' - Swayze is the taciturn new gunslinger in town and Gazzara is the evil big rancher that's been squeezing out the small farmers, store-owners, and heck, even the saloon guy. A large part of the film runs on Swayze's charm. He has excellent chemistry with the supporting cast including the sultry Kelly Lynch. Gazzara can be a wonderful actor when he wants - check out his work with John Cassavettes or his pivotal part in Anatomy of a Murder. Here he's slumming it in a caricature "evull" role, still he gives this joint a bit of class. As I later learned, Swayze had studied some martial arts and this comes in handy for the several nicely choreographed action scenes. The fist-pumping soundtrack is provided by the enthusiastic Jeff Healey Band.

Apart from the nudity, most of Road House is a solid PG-rated adventure. The climax however decides to go very violent, what with throat-rippings and shotgun massacres. It's a startling change of tone, and I wonder if it was influenced by the trend of the violent spectacles from Stallone, Schwarzenegger & Co (even the way houses explode is hugely exaggerated, like they were filled with dynamite and kerosene). It is an absurd kind of film (as Roger Ebert's review very rightly points out), but there's a charm to it, courtesy the likable cast (a hot Sam Elliot appears as Dalton's buddy), the action and the rousing rock score.

Road House (2024) is a remake led by a ridiculously shredded Jake Gyllenhaal. This film's Dalton is a retired UFC champion who apparently has such a reputation his opponents prefer to surrender without a fight. Now making a living in illicit fight clubs, he soon lands up to protect the titular bar (In the original film the place was called the Double Deuce).

While Swayze's character radiated a taciturn "Don't fuck with me" menace, Gylenhaal's Dalton is more chatty and affable; he even drives down his opponents to the local hospital after he has broken their bones. I appreciate that Dalton is not another sullen asshole, but it makes the dark side of his persona a lot less believable - Then again, it's a very cliched "I once killed a guy in the ring" dark side, which John Wayne did much better in The Quiet Man.

The bar in the remake is apparently such a good deal they have a different act performing every night. This dilutes the more cozy feeling of the original and makes the performance aspect more anonymous. The bad guys are now dealing in drugs and real estate. The action is amped up with boat chases and bigger explosions. Real-life UFC champion Conor McGregor makes a huge impression as Knox, a crazy tattooed mob enforcer up against Gyllenhaal - McGregor's performance is not necessarily in tone with the rest of the film, but he livens up every scene he is in. He shows the potential to become a big movie player, if he can keep out of jail.

Road House (2024) is more self-aware and a precocious young girl in the cast makes smirky remarks about it being a Western narrative. Director Doug Liman (who previously did the surprisingly enjoyable Edge of Tomorrow and American Made with Tom Cruise) has a certain felicity with humor, but this remake is more passable than memorable.

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