Doug Liman’s ‘Road House’ reboot is everything a reboot shouldn’t be


By Ethan M. Rogers


Overall, Doug Liman’s 2024 “Road House” reboot, rated R and available on Amazon Prime, is a boring and overly cliché retelling of the original 1989 film starring Patrick Swayze as James Dalton, professional bouncer and doctor of philosophy. 

Rather than a professional bouncer with deep thoughts and a dark secret, Jake Gyllenhall’s Elwood Dalton is an emotional child with impulse control issues and a severe need of money – the polar opposite of Swayze’s Dalton who dressed like a professional and drove a Mercedes 560 SEC.

The basic premise of both movies is the same; the owner of a roadhouse plagued with trouble seeks out Dalton to come in and clean up the mess.  

In the ‘89 iteration the bar was a proper roadhouse named the Double Deuce. It doesn’t sound like much but it set up one of the best lines of the movie when the iconic Sam Elliot (playing Dalton’s friend and mentor Wade Garrett) declared the road house “the Double Douche.” 

Gyellanhaal’s Dalton had no mentor, because he was a disgraced UFC fighter and not actually a bouncer.

In Liman’s version the roadhouse is swapped out for a tiki bar on a beach in the Florida Keys and the owner and staff, which created the world Dalton existed in in the ‘89 version, were diminished and insignificant in this film – which made the casting choices of little significance. What could’ve been a win for cast diversity was written off as unimportant or existing only for a laugh.

JD Pardo (fresh off a leading role in FX’s “Mayans”) could have easily been cast in the role of Dalton. No one that has seen Pardo’s work would doubt for a minute that he could have pulled off the role. Instead, Pardo, an American actor of mixed Latin descent, was underutilized as an aggressive and not too bright leader of a group of misfit hoodlums who eventually gets eaten by a gator.

The vaguely Hispanic sidekick, Moe, played by Guatemalan actor Arturo Castro, is friendly toward Gyllenhaal’s Dalton in a childlike way. Castro (known for “Broad City” and “Narcos”) played the role beautifully – the character seemed genuinely innocent and completely believable in Castro’s hands.

The bar owner, Frankie, played by Jessica Williams (“The Daily Show”, “2 Dope Queens”) was a shadow of Kevin Tighe’s Frank Tilghman from the original. Where Frank was clearly in control and knew more than he let on, Frankie was kept in the background and served little purpose other than hiring Dalton and lurking in the shadows.

The second bouncer that Dalton recruits, the bookstore owner and his daughter and sheriff “Big Dick,” ( I swear to god) rounded out the diversity checkboxes for the casting director. Unfortunately, none of these actors had the opportunity to do much more than that.

The one non-anglo character that was allowed to have any sort of depth and self-determination was Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior’s Ellie, the local doctor that Dalton hooks up with. A much quicker and less playful event in the Liman reboot than the original which allowed a fully formed relationship between Swayze’s Dalton and the doctor, Elizabeth Clay, played by Kelly Lynch.

The important members of the cast are white guys – white guys are the ones that matter, they hold the positions of power and control the situations, they make the plans and set things in motion. The minorities are merely backdrops to the actions of white men. Which you likely won’t notice if you are a member of Liman’s painfully obvious target audience.

Gyellanhaal’s Dalton, Conor McGregor’s Knox and Billy Magnussen’s Ben Brandt. The best fighters and the guy in charge – white dudes. It’s, to put it bluntly, a dude-bro’s homoerotic fantasy film.

In the original film, a small town is pushed around by a rich military vet, a businessman with a god complex. Businessmen get the shaft a lot in movies, but having a guy take over a small town –that was fairly original. It added a little to the story.

In Liman’s thankfully-straight-to-streaming-services-despite-his-tantrum-on-the-subject version Dalton is pitted against, wait for it: the son of a jailed drug dealer (Magnussen) in south Florida. The sheer lack of creativity in such an antagonist character is almost morally reprehensible. A drug dealer – in Florida? Liman should be sat in a corner with a dunce cap on for that faux pas alone.

The rest of the movie doesn’t get much better.

Dalton himself is less compelling in this version. In the original, time was spent showing the process of Dalton cleaning up the bar, of teaching the young bouncers, of ejecting spy employees and firing those who were of low moral value. Gyllenhaal’s Dalton just sits back and watches, offering little help and only comes out for the big fights.

The fights, and McGregor with the one liners, are the only saving grace of the film. If, that is, you’re a guy with an over-interest in sweaty men beating each other up.

Perhaps the biggest difference, and the one that makes this modern Dalton such a despicable character in contrast to Swayze’s Dalton, is the reasons they kill. And they both kill. But where Swayze’s Dalton only killed in the heat of battle and felt bad about it later, Gyllenhaal’s Dalton just gets angry and decides to go on the war path because he, by his own admission, just can’t let it go – despite “wishing” he could. 

Is he a good fighter? Yes, arguably better than Swayze’s Dalton. Is the action he takes morally justifiable? From some angles, yes, but it’s something that the audience couldn’t write off as being “just.” Essentially, he is a vigilante. Great if you’re Frank Castle (Marvel’s Punisher), not so great if you’re a blackballed UFC fighter who’s already killed someone in the ring.

The problem with vigilantes is that they become convinced of their own righteousness and become worse than that which they seek to destroy. This Dalton is a mass casualty incident waiting to happen. Violence without control is, in fact, toxic.

This is a film for white guys who want to imagine they can fight. Or for guys who like to watch white guys get sweaty and beat each other up. It’s for the guys without cauliflower ear, sitting on their couches eating cheese puffs and sucking down sodas who think they could take McGregor in a fight despite his head being twice the size of their head. 

I loved the explosions, the fights, the violence and the grandiosity of it all. There were some decent moments that helped to ground the story. Watching the movie I felt like I could do everything Dalton was doing, including beating up poor Conor. 

However, the story lacked any real substance and, despite the diverse cast in supporting roles I would be remiss if I didn’t warn people that this is a dude-bro movie – because for some people, watching white dudes fight and blow stuff up just isn’t all that interesting.

Ethan M. Rogers

1 Comments

  1. Robert Rogers on April 4, 2024 at 1:31 pm

    Excellent compare & contrast. Sometime remakes veer too far.



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