‘Road House’ 2024 & 1989 Differences: Is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Remake Better Than Patrick Swayze’s Film?


Road House, the 1989 Rowdy Herrington movie starring Patrick Swayze, is a weird phenomenon. It became a box-office hit but was lambasted by critics. They called it one of the worst movies of the year. And when it was released on the small screen, it turned into what we call a cult classic. I was aware of the film’s existence, but I didn’t watch it until I learned that it was being remade by Doug Liman with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. I liked the 1989 film a lot, and the 2024 film does earn its “remake” tag by completely overhauling the essence and ethos of the original. But does it do so in a good way or a bad way? Well, let’s talk about the differences between the two films and then arrive at a conclusion, shall we?

Spoiler Alert

Elwood Po. Dalton and James Dalton

Swayze’s Dalton is a professional bouncer who became a bit of a pacifist after ripping out a guy’s throat with his bare hands (it was in self-defense). Gyllenhaal’s Dalton is a drifter who retired as a UFC fighter after killing his opponent during a match. Swayze’s Dalton is brought to the Double Deuce because of his skills as a bouncer, specifically in terms of making clubs welcoming for people from all walks of life. Gyllenhaal’s Dalton is hired by The Road House because of his history of fighting and the fact that he induces fear by taking off his t-shirt. Swayze is charming and only scary when he needs to be, and Gyllenhaal is like a serial killer with his calmness seeming like a thin facade. Swayze’s Dalton is visibly affected by the havoc that Wesley unleashes on the town, while Gyllenhaal is a little too stoic. Swayze’s Dalton is a people’s person, so it makes sense that his best friend, Garrett, shows up to help him with his work. And given how Swayze’s Dalton decides to leave the town once Garrett gets hurt, it makes sense for him to unleash his dark side once Garrett is killed. Gyllenhaal’s Dalton doesn’t have a friend, and his decision to abruptly leave because he loses a fight with Knox and then walks back on that because a bookstore gets burned is weird. Swayze’s Dalton decides to stay because he is a part of the town, while Gyllenhaal’s Dalton leaves. Make of that what you will.

Ellie and Dr. Elizabeth Clay

Ellie and Elizabeth are both doctors. Ellie is the daughter of the Sheriff, and Elizabeth is Red Webster’s niece. Ellie seems to have the superpower to find Dalton wherever he is (maybe it’s the power of love). Elizabeth doesn’t have that power throughout the film, but it does get activated during the concluding moments as she arrives at Wesley’s house to witness his murder. The 1989 movie has this weird scene where Wade objectifies Elizabeth, but the film says that it’s okay because Dalton and Wade are such good friends. Thankfully, the 2024 film does away with that and doesn’t objectify Ellie. However, the 2024 film does make the cardinal mistake of turning Ellie into a damsel in distress by getting her kidnapped by the villains and making Dalton come and rescue her. Ellie definitely has more screen time during the finale than Elizabeth, but it’s really performative because she awkwardly hangs around while the men do all the fighting. Performance-wise, Kelly Lynch and Daniela Melchior are fine, but it’s the writing that makes Elizabeth a much better and more memorable character than Ellie.

Ben Brandt and Brad Wesley

Brandt and Wesley’s motives are the same, which is to take over everything in the town and make endless amounts of money. Wesley built his empire from the ground up, and yet he is really petty. Brandt has inherited his money; hence, he is really petty about everything. There’s a big difference. Ben Gazzara’s villainy is very subtle. He has that constant, smug smile on his face that gets under the skin of the characters as well as the audience. Billy Magnussen is famous for his leering smile, but it’s not put to great use. Instead, he is chaotic and seems to be inspired by Al Pacino’s Tony Montana (the clothes and the energy) and Robert De Niro’s Al Capone (especially with that shaving scene). Wesley is very effective and fearless. He says what he does, and he and his henchmen are relentless. There’s an infuriating but great scene where Wesley tears down a whole Ford showroom. It’s only during his last moments that he shows an inkling of fear and apprehension and then dies in a way that reflects how angry the whole community was with him. Brandt never really seems to be in control. He is actually overshadowed by Knox, and then he is killed by him instead of the community that he was terrorizing. I acknowledge that it’s a change, but does it make sense in terms of the themes? Maybe it’s shocking? No? Then what is it? Bad writing—that’s what it is.

Knox and Jimmy Reno

The most memorable aspect of the 2024 Road House is undoubtedly Conor McGregor’s Knox. He seems to be in a story of his own, dancing to his own tune, and chewing through every scene he is in. He works for Joe Brandt (I hope I got the name right), and he is sent to Ben to take care of things in Florida. Hence the aforementioned lack of loyalty and change in the dynamic between the primary and secondary villains of the film. It’s a huge departure from Marshall Teague’s Jimmy Reno, who is Wesley’s pet through and through. Knox and Reno have the same skill sets as their respective Daltons, thereby giving the villains a dark mirror image of their respective heroes. However, since Gyllenhaal’s Dalton has nothing iconic about him and Swayze’s Dalton has his throat-tearing move, complete with a proper build-up to the moment where Swayze’s Dalton kills Reno by tearing his throat, the hero of the 1989 film feels like the strongest man in his story. Meanwhile, despite Gyllenhaal’s thorough beating of Dalton, given how Knox walks out of the hospital like a boss, thereby possibly setting up a sequel, it makes Dalton look weak, and Knox feels like the strongest man in a story that’s not even about him. On top of all that, Reno and Dalton’s fight is amazing. It’s visible, gritty, and overflowing with emotions. Knox and Dalton’s fight is incomprehensible. I mean, the editing during their final fight is atrocious. Also, it feels too choreographed and hollow.

Frankie and Frank Tilghman

Frankie and Frank are mostly the same. They want to keep ownership of their respective clubs and clean them up. There’s history between The Road House and Frankie, which gives some weight to her urge to keep the club right where it is instead of just giving it up to Brandt. But that’s about it. Frank, on the other hand, has a sense of three-dimensionality to him. I like the moment in the 1989 film where it’s revealed that the bartender at Frank’s Roadhouse Club is actually Wesley’s nephew. When Dalton throws him out, it becomes a huge issue when it comes to the proper functioning of the club. And when Dalton overcomes these issues, Frank really supports him and the changes that he wants to make, as opposed to what he wants to do. Also, Frank ends up being one of the people to shoot down Wesley. Frankie just pays Dalton, partakes in some unhealthy exposition, and at one point, she goes on a wild goose chase, apparently, and then returns to find her club in shambles. She doesn’t get to lay a hand on Brandt. At the cost of sounding repetitive, the 2024 film has changed things up, but the bad writing around those changes makes it seem like the makers just cared about giving Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor the most screen time and depth, and they didn’t really care about anyone else.

Glass Books and Red’s Auto Parts

Red’s Auto Parts belongs to Elizabeth’s uncle. Dalton loves Elizabeth, and he is friendly with Red because he is a car aficionado. Since Dalton’s car, which he loves, is constantly damaged by Wesley’s goons, he has to come to Red to get it fixed. Dalton sees that Red is an old guy who just wants to do his job without being disturbed by Wesley. That’s why, when Wesley burns down the shop, it hurts Dalton so much. Charlie and Steven are a couple of bookstore owners whom Dalton meets while entering the town and becomes friendly with for no real reason. Charlie is there to remind the audience that Dalton and the plot of Road House are synonymous with Westerns. I don’t think the 2024 version of Dalton even likes books. So, why does he keep coming to the bookstore? There’s a scene where Dalton asks if the bookstore has an internet connection, and that’s just set up for another scene where Dalton looks at a map. There’s no personal bond over here. So, Dalton staying back to fight the villains when Glass Books gets burned up is weird. On paper, yes, it seems reasonable, but the execution is very weak. Much like Frank, Red gets his revenge by being one of the people to shoot down Wesley. Charlie and Steven are nowhere to be seen when Brandt (the guy who sends his goons to terrorize the area where Glass Books exists) dies.

The Road House and the Double Deuce

The Double Deuce feels like a real place, while The Road House feels like a set. Let’s start with that. The Double Deuce has a personality. The Road House seems like any other beachside bar. From the first scene itself, the fact that the Double Deuce needs to be saved is palpable. You don’t need to be told twice to understand that it’s filled with the worst customers and the most careless employees. The Road House seems fine. Much like the fights in the film, the ruckus seems too choreographed and polished. The net between the band and the public makes sense in the Double Deuce. The net in The Road House feels like an homage. The transformation of the Double Deuce under Dalton’s leadership is evident. The net comes down, the crowd changes, and it feels like the air becomes clearer. So, when it is trashed after all that effort, it stings! The net never comes down in The Road House. Is that an indicator that Dalton doesn’t bring about any real change there? It’s torn down by Knox and then completely destroyed by him in the final fight. In fact, The Road House is completely trashed at the end of the film. Did that make me feel anything? No, because the film didn’t urge me to be invested in its evolution and eventual downfall. That little conflict where Wesley stops the supply of alcohol is so realistic, thereby making you wonder how the Double Deuce is going to function as a bar. The Road House doesn’t have such conflicts. Even the bloody staff in the Double Deuce has so much personality, with Cody being an old friend of Dalton’s. They try to build something similar between Billy and Dalton, but it doesn’t really work out.

The Boat and Emmett’s Farmhouse

The Boat, which is a boat that’s owned by Frankie, becomes the house of Gyllenhaal’s Dalton. Emmett’s farmhouse is the one where Swayze’s Dalton lives. The boat is at a dock, and it’s used for a crocodile joke, a few conversations with the dockmaster whose dog was eaten by the crocodile, a close-quarters fight scene, and to stash a dead body. Emmett’s farmhouse exists right in front of Wesley’s estate, and they are separated by a river. That’s why Wesley’s presence is felt even when Dalton is sleeping or having intercourse. You, as the audience, know that the creep is right across that little waterbody. Wesley constantly torments Emmett in various ways. Wesley burning down Emmett’s house causes Dalton to go haywire. The moment when Dalton kills Reno and sends him floating across the river to Wesley’s side is great! The Boat is just a boat. It’s just there. It has no personality. It serves no real storytelling purpose. It’s there.

Is the Jake Gyllenhaal remake better?

No, I don’t think the Jake Gyllenhaal remake is better than the original film starring the one and only Patrick Swayze. And this is not my nostalgia speaking because I have none. I have watched the two films within a span of a few days, and the difference in quality and storytelling is immense. I can appreciate Doug Liman’s effort to make a different movie instead of doing a scene-by-scene retelling of the Rowdy Herrington cult classic. I also applaud the fact that the remake hasn’t emulated the insane levels of objectification that the original had. But, as mentioned before, changing things for the sake of changing things doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. The changes are merely cosmetic in nature. There’s no gravitas to it. Everything about the remake is overly explanatory and overly complicated. There’s an odd lack of authenticity in the remake. And it falters in the one avenue where it has more resources than the original: the action. I can watch all the bar fights from the original on a loop, while the ones from the remake seem too derivative and fake to enjoy. To be clear, the original is almost perfect, while the remake is barely watchable. However, that’s just my opinion. Please watch both the Road House movies and let me know which one is better.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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