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road house header.jpg

Does The 'Road House' Remake Understand 'Road House'?

By Claude Weaver III | Film | March 6, 2023 |

By Claude Weaver III | Film | March 6, 2023 |

road house header.jpg

I’m not one to make hay about remakes or reboots, because there are plenty of examples of good, even great ones. As long as there is a clear understanding of the promise/appeal of the original, or enough of its own identity to stand out away from the original, it can work!

But I am also an old hat at a lot of properties that have undergone the reborquel treatment, and once I sniff a significant mismatch between old and new, it’s hard for me to let go. I did it with the Gotham Knights trailer (yes, that is somehow STILL upcoming). And the Amazon Video Road House remake with Jake Gyllenhaal and director Doug Liman is making me feel the same tingle in my teeth.

Thanks to MMA Junkie (via DiscussingFilm’s Twitter), we got a short look at a scene filmed at UFC 285, featuring Gyllenhaal as Elwood(?) Dalton at his weigh-in for the middleweight championship. He even gets into a bit of a tussle and talks some shit, as one is wont to do at these things:

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I’m sure some of you are going Hey Claude, it’s clear that this is Dalton before he becomes the “Be Nice” Guy. The film must be setting up this version of Dalton as a hothead to show how much he changed. An origin story if you will. Plus, it’s Road House! It’s not that big of a deal, right? Also, you’re still writing here?

First, yes, my login still works (for now).

Second, the original made a point about not only his calm and unfazed demeanor being super goddamn important to his job as a cooler, but also mention his degree in philosophy from NYU! Yeah, they say that! And the whole last chunk of the movie shows how fucking monstrous he is when finally pushed to the limit. Even the NYPD used the “Be Nice” scene as an example of how to de-escalate situations. It’s sad they had to resort to a clip from a movie to teach this concept to their officers and it most likely did f**k all for police violence, but at least they understood the point.

OG Dalton was a guy who would be considered, in modern sad-man parlance, an “alpha male” due to his capacity for great violence. And yet, the movie paints his efforts to NOT fight, to only use violence as a last resort and only enough to get the other guy to stop, as the morally superior position. He is only driven to his most extreme acts of violence when his foes just won’t stop. Because he knows what he is capable of, and the only thing he fears is going that far again.

I’m sorry, I try not to get all ranty, especially over a vague premise about “a former UFC fighter who takes a job as a bouncer at a rough-and-tumble roadhouse in the Florida Keys, but ‘soon discovers that not everything is what it seems in this tropical paradise’” and a minute-and-a-half clip out of context. I am not a massive Road House connoisseur with the staid and incorrect feeling that the original is “ruined” or whatnot. I’ve seen it, enjoyed it, and respect the work that went into it. It’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but it does what it came to do and is surprisingly deep about masculinity and being “tough”, much like Dalton himself.

But let us say that this is just a different Dalton, with a different backstory. This Dalton starts off as a hothead that would totally start shit at a weigh-in. There is another problem with this though: how this shapes the audience’s view of Dalton. In the original, he killed a man. In self-defense, yes, but also in a very brutal and painful way. And when it is revealed, it’s treated as a low point for him. Are they really going to move that into a professional fighting setting? This removes the self-defense angle, which means any death would have to be accidental or intentional, at least within the rules. And if they don’t include the death, then so much would have to change that it seems pointless to call it a remake/reboot/reimagining of Road House.

This is something of a cardinal sin in adaptations and remakes, especially ones from the last 20 years or so: making unnecessary changes, particularly to remove any ambiguity or vagueness. This seems small and almost clever, taking a thinly-sketched out character and giving him a seemingly more developed past. But not only does it often come off as a shortcut to avoid storytelling through naturalistic acting or atmosphere (this is how you often get pointless flashbacks from rookie directors), but it also makes the story harder to tell by removing the short and simple bits that allow suspension of disbelief. I now have several more questions about that one UFC clip than I ever had about the original!

If we are going to have a movie nominally called Road House, we might as well watch Road House 2 with Dalton’s son (who’s not even named Dalton?), or the planned Nick Cassavetes version with Ronda Rousey.

Gah, perish the thought.

Claude Weaver III is now very curious about the off-Broadway Road House musical starring Taimak from The Last Dragon in a blonde wig that he discovered while researching this piece. No longer on Twitter, but he’ll get something figured out soon.

Image sources (in order of posting): MGM Studios/Amazon Studios, UFC/MGM Studios