As well as some excellent original content – The Boys being the 'prime' example, Amazon Prime Video is a great source of classic movies. Now it's taking the obvious next step and producing a remake of a classic movie: Road House. This originally starred Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott, and is one of the silliest, most lovable action movies ever made. It has such a unique vibe – the director was called 'Rowdy Herrington' which possibly tells you all that you need to know – that a remake seems like a tall order. However the director and star team of Doug Liman (Bourne Identity) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Spider-Man: Far From Home) is definitely an interesting one.
Perhaps it's my imagination, but Prime Video seems to have a higher concentration of violent, 'macho' movies than Netflix and its other competitors. I recently rediscovered all the Mad Max films streaming there, for instance. Road House is a hard movie to explain. 'Violent and macho' sums it up pretty well, but the original also had a thick vein of humour running through it. You can quibble over whether it was being deliberately funny, as I and several people attached to the film would claim, or whether it was accidentally humorous due to being so darn stoopid.
Road House clearly baffled and rattled those stuck-up critics, as it has a lacklustre 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But what do those condescending Poindexters know? Audiences give it 66% which is much better although still suggests a lot of those people don't quite 'get' Road House. So to make the scoring mathematically perfect, I give it 99%. For me, the original Road House is the best terrible movie ever made, and the perfect late-night, weekend, slightly boozed-up entertainment.
What makes the original Road House so good? Firstly it is a dumb, kick-ass action movie. Secondly, it clearly knows it is a dumb, kick-ass action movie. If you actually think about its plot for even a minute, it falls apart. But the action and humour are so non-stop, it would seem churlish to point out certain plot holes and implausible moments.
In summary, a small American town is entirely run by a corrupt local businessman named Brad Wesley – there are no cops, as far as we can see. On the edge of town is a violent bar whose owner, in desperation, brings in a legendary bouncer called Dalton, played by Patrick Swayze. Dalton is unbeatable in a fight, unflappable under pressure and it is said he once killed a man… by ripping his throat out. Dalton cleans up the bar in about 3 weeks but this only brings him into conflict with the pointlessly evil Wesley. Needless to say, many one-liners and much ass-kicking duly ensues.
This is the kind of film everyone says 'they don't make them like that anymore', and that may be because someone in Hollywood sent around a memo after Road House saying, 'for god's sake, don't make them like that anymore.' The film entirely hinges on the charisma of Patrick Swayze and, to an extent Sam Elliott, who plays Wade Garrett who is – guess what? – another, older but equally legendary bouncer. Dalton calls him in as backup and the brotastic duderama that results is really quite something.
The tone of the film is firmly tongue in cheek. When Dalton and Garrett make their respective entrances, someone in the background literally says, 'Who IS that guy?' The dialogue is littered with gems such as 'Pain don't hurt' and 'I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing that's missing… is your ass!' The super-evil Wesley has a trophy room, of course. We also learn that Dalton, as well as having a PhD in ass-kicking, studied philosophy at NYU. He characterises this as 'Man's search for faith… that sort of shit.'
I won't repeat the funniest line in Road House because it is hilariously obscene, and also I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise for you when you see it.
Another very significant thing about Road House is that it makes full and lingering use of Patrick Swayze. I don't think I've seen any Hollywood film where the camera lingers on its male star more than this – not even the prime-time works of Tom Cruise or Richard Gere. We frequently see Dalton shirtless, oiled up, and doing slow-motion tai-chi by the river. Swayze moves with the coiled grace of a leopard and has a strange, almost feminine charm. This seemed like a natural fit for Dirty Dancing, but it is a bit incongruous in a movie where he spends about 50% of his time kicking people in the knee – a move he guarantees will bring down any opponent – head-butting them in the face, or ripping out their throats with his bare hands. But then that's why Road House is one of the best movies of all time.
Swayze's key one-on-one scenes are both highly, erm sensual. And by that I mean both his vigorously sexy scene with the local doctor, who he naturally romances, although he continues to refer to her as 'doc', and also the violent one where he battles Wesley's main henchman, again stripped to the waist. The camera really homes in on Swayze's physique and vulnerability, in a way you would not expect from a film directed by a man called 'Rowdy Herrington'.
Anyway, as you can probably tell, I love this film and have seen it way too many times. Remaking it, with Jake Gyllenhaal filling Swayze's karate slippers, seems like a suitably bizarre thing to do, in keeping with all the ludicrous things that happen in the original. I have some questions though.
Can Jake Gyllenhaal kick ass? Actually, I know the answer to this. He'll be best known to most movie goers as Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home, in which he kicked a certain amount of ass, but back in 2015 he was very convincing as a sensitive boxer in Southpaw. Back in 2012 he had great bromantic bro chemistry with Michael Pena in the cop movie End of Watch too. So while most Gyllenhaal movies have not involved him being very manly and kicking lots of ass, he has proved he can do it. Does he have quite the other-worldly charm or Bruce Lee-like physique of Swayze? That's slightly more questionable, but he's a good actor and I am sure he'll be putting the gym work in as we speak.
Who can replace Sam Elliott as Wade Garrett? The cowboy boots of Sam Elliott may be even harder to fill. His high-wattage charisma, relaxed manner and way with a one-liner made him the perfect older foil to Swayze in the original Road House. He also kicked a lot of ass. My top tip here is Bob Odenkirk. Although better known as Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul, he was widely acclaimed for his work in last year's extremely violent hit, Nobody. This saw him playing, basically, an ass-kickin' dad, which is what the Wade Garrett role is, in a nutshell. He did also quite recently have a heart attack, but hopefully he's over that now.
Is Doug Liman any kind of Rowdy Herrington? Rowdy's highly eccentric direction of Road House is a big part what makes it the legend that it is. Was he a good director? By many metrics, probably not. Was he exactly the right director for that particular movie? Hell yeah. Much of the film's rampaging, make-it-up-as-you-go-along tone probably came from legendary producer Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Matrix, etcetera etcetera ad infinitum), but Rowdy helmed it like a boss.
Doug Liman did the first Bourne film and also Edge of Tomorrow, in which Tom Cruise gets killed repeatedly and very satisfyingly. So there's no doubt he knows his way around filming action. However, it is hard to picture him turning in a film as uninhibited, ass-kicking and self-knowingly funny as the original Road House.
Has Liman ever filmed a car driving up a ramp and flying through the air whilst being peppered with shotgun fire, causing it to catch fire and explode? I very much doubt it. He'll need to raise his game if Road House the Remake is to be as big a triumph as Rowdy Herrington's original.