SXSW 2024: “We’re Goin’ to the ROAD HOUSE (2024) and Gonna Have a Real Good Time”


I, like Jim Morrison, went to the Road House and had a real good time.

I’ll admit skepticism that a Road House remake could dethrone one of Patrick Swayze’s seminal works and one of the most beloved action films of the 1980s. And Doug Liman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s 2024 film wisely does not attempt to replace that film, but rather to riff on it in a satisfying way. Here at the SXSW World Premiere of Road House 2024, star Gyllenhaal went out of his way to praise and honor Patrick Swayze and the original film. And I’ll admit that was important to me as a fan of the original. 

The original film still reigns supreme. Swayze’s Dalton is the ultimate man of mystery. He’s a tai-chi practicing bar bouncer who is a student of philosophy, a woo-er of beautiful high class women, and a man who will rip out your throat when pushed too far, but then brood about it afterwards only to be set straight by his mentor Sam Elliott. There’s just no replacing any of that iconic, only in the 1980s, perfection. 

Which makes you wonder why Doug Liman and his crew would even try? I think it’s because they knew something essential, nay crucial: They knew they could make something fun. Road House ‘24 doesn’t achieve the gravitas of the original but it succeeds by not trying that. 

Gyllenhaal’s Dalton remains a man of mystery but adopts a different kind of classic action trope to imbue its lead with compelling backstory. Our Dalton is a washed up and homeless individual, creeping around underground fight clubs to scrape by enough cash to keep living in his car. We quickly learn that he’s a former MMA champion, known the world over, but haunted by something catastrophic that plagues his dreams. It’s a little weird, then, when he shows up acting super nice at Frankie’s (Jessica Williams, being hilarious and looking incredible) Road House acting all nice and relaxed like Swayze’s more intentional and experienced bouncer character. Dalton ‘24 is a lost and burned out soul with no experience except in fighting. Why’s he so nice and calm and good at clearing out the riff raff while working to save Williams’ bar from evil business men and their biker gangs? It’s because Jake’s Dalton wears the kindness and coolness as a mask; he’s afraid of who he becomes when the switch is flipped and he really cuts loose. Which, if I’m being honest, is one of my absolute favorite action tropes. Because you better believe he’ll be pushed too far, and in that third act, it’s going to be time for Dalton to stop being nice; to become the version of himself that he most fears. And the audience at SXSW, myself included, pretty much ate that up. 

Liman’s version of Road House also simply eliminates the Sam Elliott mentor character, which I think was wise as there’s absolutely no chance of success in replacing Sam Elliott. Instead real life MMA superstar Conor McGregor makes his feature film debut as a charismatic and unruly villain that becomes Dalton’s only real physical match and threat. I know a lot of eyes are on McGregor as he is a world renowned super star. I personally don’t follow sports in any way and was only familiar with McGregor’s outsized personality that had seeped through into my social feeds. How does he come off on the big screen? Honestly, a bit like Brad Pitt’s Mickey in Snatch: unpredictable, hilarious, intimidating, and impossible to understand a single word he says. McGregor’s Knox is a freight train that literally crashes into and out of frame and frankly acheives in spades his singular goal: to fuck shit up. There’s no doubt that McGregor looks amazing on screen. His face and physique just pop. He’s got crazy eyes and swagger for days. Knox is in the film because he’s called in by Brandt’s (Billy Magnussen continuing his streak as king of smarm) jailed crime lord father to clean up the mess Brandt has been making of the operation to take over the Road House. In other words, go kill Dalton and put Brandt in his place. I don’t know if McGregor will become some kind of big Hollywood star, but as a one-man wrecking ball he brings the juice to Road House ‘24.

Road House cast at SXSW! Jake Gyllenhaal, Conor McGregor, Jessica Williams, Post Malone… #SXSW #filmtok #amazon #roadhouse #conormcgregor #jakegyllenhaal #postmalone

♬ original sound –

There’s a whole western motif to this version of the film as well. It feels like an amped up and tropical version of Reacher, and I mean that as a compliment. OG Dalton rode in and out of town like a classical, wandering hero. But it’s commented upon in this version by a precocious kid named Charlie (Hannah Love Lanier) who helps run her dad’s struggling book shop that’s right next to the bus stop Dalton rides in and out of town on. Precocious kids in movies can be a crap shoot, but a key element of Dalton’s heroism and why we love this character is that he IS a nice guy who can crush tracheas real good, and he naturally builds and connects to community wherever he goes. Like all the best wandering heroes he makes connections with Charlie, and Frankie, and all the other bouncers and bartenders at the Road House. And hell, even some of the bikers he keeps beating the shit out of kind of like him. But Charlie regularly comments on how he’s like an old timey sheriff kicking the trash out of Dodge City and it’s charming.

Everyone involved in Road House ‘24 seemed to be on the same page to create something focused largely on fun. Gyllenhaal is cracking wise non-stop, even in the middle of some of the most high stakes fights. Jessica Williams is, of course, hilarious and big-hearted. McGregor’s character is written for laughs and playing into his real life image as a rogue, and it works. Perhaps smashing all those jokes up against the “hero got pushed too far and now he’s merking fools” trope might feel discordant to some. But I felt it was just the right concoction to entertain the masses and honor the original while hooking a new generation. 

Ultimately it’ll be best to not pit the 1989 version against the 2024 version, because nobody ever wins a fight.

And I’m Out. 

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