Friday, July 19

Recycled Roadhouse fails to pack a punch

While I’m not usually generationally territorial, I was sceptical when a remake was announced of the 1989 Patrick Swayze cult classic, Roadhouse. The original Roadhouse was and is very special to me, so I was inherently going in biased, but happy to be proven wrong and open to a fresh incarnation if it could entertain me. I dig Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor, and Doug Liman is a solid director. Surely this would be okay?

And it was.

Okay.

At best.

While the film does enough to be comparatively different and has some good fight sequences and a fresh location, it has arguably too much budget for its own good when it came to some big action set pieces, and is ultimately left wanting in terms of character and chemistry – two hallmarks of the original.

The stunt casting of Conor McGregor was always going to be scrutinised. For die-hard lovers of ‘The Notorious’ one, they will love and enjoy his presence. For those less familiar or more sceptical, you will be left cringing at the one-dimensional portrayal of a real-world leprechaun strutting around with a flexed pose and forced smile. He offered little genuine threat or surprise. Why? Because we all know McGregor can fight. There’s no surprise there. And he’s smaller than Gyllenhaal which undermines the threat to the fictional Dalton. We know this isn’t real so seeing a hero who appears bigger and tougher than the antagonist doesn’t quite fly. The filmmaker is relying on McGregor’s reputation as a UFC fighter to carry the threat. Yet it’s also a strange paradox for the audience that the actor Gyllenhaal is playing a former UFC fighter, up against McGregor we know is a UFC fighter but is playing a character who has no relationship with the UFC. None of it completely works. Mainly because McGregor has the acting chops of Andrei the Giant. McGregor is a great fighter, but he’s a shithouse actor.

The biggest element missing from the remake is Wade Garrett, the iconic role personified by the incomparable Sam Elliott. He’s been completely written out. And it robs new audiences of this character, relationship, and chemistry that was integral to the original film being so loved. Without this mentor character, this story’s heartbeat falls flat. It makes you wonder if the filmmaker knew they couldn’t compete with the inevitable comparisons to Elliott, so it was easier to not bother and distance themselves from him. But in doing so, they remove the heart and soul of Roadhouse.

The decision to cast against type with the comedy genius of Billy Magnussen portraying our main villain, Ben Brandt, also leaves a dissatisfying taste. He never quite manages to embody the threat tinged with smug entitlement the way Ben Gazara’s Brad Wesley, achieved. And while it’s not hugely important, why change the last name of the villain? Weird choice. How did that make the film better?

Doug Liman clearly strives for a tone and style that is somewhat self-referential and doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. But it leaves audiences asking, why should we? It never seems to find that balance.

The second biggest flaw is the chemistry between Ellie (Daniela Melchior) and Dalton. Melchior is a good actress, but her chemistry with Gyllenhaal was painfully inept. I can’t quite explain why but I cringed when they kissed. I had to stop the movie and check if my partner noticed how awful that was as well. She noticed. The chemistry and sex scene between Swayze and Kelly Lynch in the original is legendary. Let’s just say that if you rented Roadhouse from a video store on VHS, there was a certain point you would arrive at that had been played so many times, it was a 1989 version of buffering. There won’t be any buffering in this updated version.

One of the more subtle changes to Dalton’s character are his suicidal tendencies and rage issues linked to a traumatic event from his past, that he’s effectively running from. While the event is explained, the reason or source of his rage issues isn’t (something a Wade Garrett presence could have provided). But this lack of understanding means that Dalton’s character can never actually grow, and means the audience never gets the chance to experience that moment of clarity when they realise why this story is being told. The only reason we’re left with is… money and, having a bit of fun.

The movie culminates in a third-act set piece on the water, with explosions and boat chases that were mildly entertaining though it was clear Liman was heavily drawing from Face Off, while never coming close to matching it.

Look, if you’ve got 2 hours to kill, you could probably do worse than watching Roadhouse (2024). Go in with low expectations and you shouldn’t leave disappointed. But that’s a sad, low bar to set for what should have been a cult classic for a new generation.

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