Amazon’s Lackluster Road House Remake Undermines Its Own Story

We now live in an era where films can’t really be left as works of art, but rather, must be IP investments with franchise potential
Road House 2024 Dalton vs. Knox
Jake Gyllenhaal faces off against Conor McGregor in Amazon’s Road House

There’s plenty worth criticizing in Amazon’s recent remake of Road House, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, and Conor McGregor, starting with the fact that nobody was really clamoring for a Road House remake in the first place.

There are the wasted performances and under-developed characters, not to mention a storyline that tries — emphasis on “tries” — to walk the line between paying homage to the original 1989 film and throwing in some fresh, modern ideas. As for the movie’s many fights and action sequences, they rely far too heavily on editing and CGI nonsense to make them intense, which actually just makes them unintelligible and headache-inducing.

But the most annoying thing about Amazon’s Road House is how it undermines its own storytelling and protagonist in an incredibly dumb manner.

The following contains major spoilers for both versions of Road House.

Road house 2024 dalton 1
Dalton finally finds the peace he’s been looking for

Amazon’s Road House stars Gyllenhaal as Elwood Dalton, a disgraced UFC fighter who scrapes out a living by using his reputation to scam the underground fighting circuit. In flashbacks, we eventually learn the origin of his reputation: during a UFC title match, Dalton snapped and killed his opponent, who also happened to be his friend. Which means that underneath Dalton’s genial and laidback exterior lies a rage that he desperately wants to keep under control.

Dalton finally seems to find his niche after he’s employed as a bouncer at a bar in the Florida Keys — which, in a lame callback to the original, is called the Road House — and starts befriending the locals, who all admire the way he’s able to toss out the riff-raff and make the Road House a fun, lively venue. He also strikes up a relationship with Ellie (Melchior), the pretty doctor who patched up his wounds. (Another callback to the original Road House.)

Dalton’s new peace is soon threatened, though. First, by a wealthy developer named Brandt (Billy Magnussen) who wants to replace the Road House with a fancy resort and is trying to intimidate the bar’s owner into selling, and second, by the town’s corrupt sheriff, who’s in league with Brandt and also happens to be Ellie’s father. Unfortunately for them all, Dalwood’s UFC skills — and the local crocodile — make quick work of their schemes, as well as every goon, gangster, and thug that Brandt sends into the Road House

Road house 2024 knox 1
Knox is a total chaos agent

But Brandt has some major daddy issues. Despite being imprisoned, his crime boss father wants to control the situation and orders an unhinged enforcer named Knox (McGregor) to travel to Florida and take charge of things. (And just how do we know Knox is unhinged? In his first scene, he escapes from his lover’s husband and starts wreaking havoc in a small Italian town — all while swaggering around buck naked.)

If you’ve ever seen any action movie ever, then you know where this is heading.

Dalton, who has been constantly taunted about his deadly reputation, is eventually pushed too far by Brandt’s actions and starts killing his goons. (He also reveals some military-level skills with explosives that he uses to blow up Brandt’s yacht, a character detail that’s never really explained.) After rescuing Ellie, Dalton confronts Knox at the Road House, and the two proceed to have a hyper-edited brawl that leaves the bar in ruins and their bodies bloodied.

Knox has the upper hand until Dalton, hearkening back to his infamous UFC fight, snaps and stabs Knox multiple times, leaving the psychotic enforcer for dead. Unfortunately, Ellie sees Dalton’s rampage and the shock on her face makes it clear that their relationship is over.

What’s more, Dalton now has to leave town lest he get arrested or draw any more attention from Brandt’s father. Much like the Western films that he’d discussed with the local bookstore’s young proprietor, Dalton is unable to enjoy the peace that he brought about. Instead, he must leave his newfound home for everyone else’s sake.

Road house 2024 ellie 1
Can Ellie still love Dalton after she sees his true nature?

This was an interesting turn that actually gave Amazon’s Road House a certain poignancy compared to the original Road House, where Patrick Swayze’s Dalton gets to stay in town, which is prospering because of him, and remain with his new girl. But then Amazon’s Road House undoes everything with a mid-credits sequence that reveals that Knox actually survived: he beats up a bunch of hospital staff and then swaggers out of the hospital, butt sticking out of his gown.

I suppose it’s meant to be humorous, but it ruins the ending’s poignancy by rendering Dalton’s sacrifice and hard-won peace entirely moot. Given what we know of Knox — i.e., he’s a total chaos agent — it’s safe to assume that he’ll pick up right where he left off and begin terrorizing the town’s residents, ransacking the rebuilt Road House, and taking out his anger on Ellie. It makes no sense from a storytelling perspective, not if you wanted to make Dalton’s plight even somewhat tragic and emotional à la classic Westerns like Shane, High Noon, and The Searchers.

I can only assume this was done because we now live in an era where films can’t really be left to stand on their own as works of art, but rather, must be IP investments with franchise potential. After all, if Knox isn’t dead, then that perfectly sets up Road House 2*, in which Dalton inevitably battles Knox yet again, presumably while still battling the demons from his past. Because God forbid that Amazon release a movie with a complete, self-contained story that doesn’t try to establish a new franchise.

Road house 2024 brandt 1
Brandt is looking particularly punch-able

To be fair, the original Road House’s ending has its own problems. After killing nearly all of the evil henchmen, Swayze’s Dalton proceeds to beat up the big bad, a local crime lord with the super evil-sounding name of Brad Wesley. Just when it looks like he’s going to kill Wesley, too, Dalton spares his life. Being the villain that he is, Wesley grabs a gun and is about to shoot Dalton when the townspeople — who’ve finally decided to stand up to Wesley thanks to Dalton’s example — arrive and take turns gunning Wesley down, and then cover up their joint murder when the police arrive.

On paper, this sounds like a pretty gritty and cynical ending, but the scene is actually played for laughs as the locals deny seeing anything. Indeed, when the one surviving henchman goes along with their story, all that’s missing is the “sad trombone” sound effect and/or a high five freeze-frame as everyone gets away with murder.

Make no mistake, the original Road House is more enjoyable than Amazon’s remake, especially when it embraces its “B” movie nature. Both films, however, struggle when it comes to depicting the ramifications of their protagonists’ actions, and more importantly, their guilt and anger. The original Road House is a bit better — you actually see and believe Swayze’s inner struggle while Gyllenhaal hides it behind smirks and goofy smiles — but neither film ends well. Amazon’s Road House actually had an opportunity to improve upon the original in this particular regard, until it chickened out to leave the door open for a possible sequel.

* — Yes, I know there’s already a Road House 2, which was released in 2006 straight to video, stars Johnathon Schaech and Jake Busey, and is, by most accounts, pretty bad. No, I haven’t seen it, and I probably never will.

Enjoy reading Opus? Want to support my writing? Become a subscriber for just $5/month or $50/year.
Subscribe Today
Return to the Opus homepage