Move over, Mr. Welles, ‘Road House’ needs a seat

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Screenshot 2024 03 25 at 5.20.51 PM
Conor McGregor, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal from “Road House. IMDB Photo by Laura Radford/Laura Radford/Prime Video

grazianoFew films in cinema history have flirted with perfection. A case could be made for Orson Welles’ 1941 film about Donald Trump, “Citizen Kane.” 

Some critics will argue that Francis Ford Coppola’s first “Godfather” movie is worthy of consideration, and I have heard The Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” and Elizabeth Banks’ “Cocaine Bear” bandied around as well.

But critics and viewers, alike, almost-unanimously agree that one movie is indisputably perfect from start to finish, from the rough draft of the screenplay to its post-production. I’m talking about Rowdy Herrington’s 1989 masterpiece “Road House.” 

After the late Patrick Swayze ascended to the role of a human deity for his flawless depiction of the unflappable bouncer/Tai chi master James Dalton, it seemed a safe bet that no one would ever have the temerity to attempt to revive that role.

Then along comes Jake Gyllenhaal — Taylor’s ex — who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod in 2006 for his role as Jack Twist,  a love-drunk gay cowboy in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”  While Gyllenhaal was brilliant in “Brokeback Mountain,” I must admit, I didn’t think the actor stood a chance at touching the sun as Dalton.

Nor could I have ever predicted that MMA fighter-turned-thespian Conor McGregor would demonstrate such impressive dramatic range as Knox, an Irish goon who beats people up for a living.    

But I’m getting ahead myself. 

Before spending last Saturday afternoon watching the Amazon Prime original film “Road House,” released on March 8, I “primed” myself for some masculine mojo with a few Truly Vodka Sodas and some white wine spritzers. 

I was skeptical going into the movie and itching to call blasphemy for trying to reproduce the inimitable. But the film’s opening sequence quickly put my doubts to bed. 

“Road House” opens with Post Malone playing Carter Ford, a complicated character torn between his talent for beating the shit out of people in an underground fight club and wanting to hone his own verbal virtuosity. 

Then Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal, courtesy of steroids) arrives and takes off his shirt to reveal (spoiler alert) that he’s completely jacked. 

It turns out that Dalton is a former UFC fighter with some skeletons in his closet. It also turns out that the owner of a bar in the Florida Keys called Road House is there and needs a bouncer to straighten out the rowdy locals, take on the small town of Glass Keys’ drug bosses, and fullfill a smoking hot ER doctor’s bad boy complex. 

You can probably guess the rest. 

Gyllenhaal shows off all of his Academy Award-nominated chops as the soft-spoken Elwood Dalton. Notice that the character does not have the same given name as Swayze’s character in the original film. Gyllanhaal’s Elwood Dalton is not, in fact, the same character as Swayze’s James Dalton, although they’re both referred to simply as “Dalton.” 

For example, they have different hair colors and different hairstyles, and the actors have different names. And while both characters clearly passed their community college Introduction to Philosophy courses with solid Cs—at one point, Elwood Dalton muses, “What are we all doing here, anyway?” which is certainly a pertinent question an hour into this film—Gyllenhaal’s Dalton doesn’t practice Tai chi.

Not. The. Same. Character.

However, the 2024 version of “Road House” is clearly Conor McGregor’s coming out party, putting together an impeccable performance as Knox, which should already be garnering some Oscar buzz. Every time McGregor appears in a scene—and it is usually shirtless—he steals the show with a dazzling cinematic presence.

While it would be fair to assume that McGregor might now sojourn to the live stage—one could easily picture him playing a tortured Prince Hamlet—there is clearly a new star on Hollywood’s horizon, and it is jacked, too.

One can only hope and pray that the characters of Dalton and Knox might one day reunite in a “Road House” meets “Brokeback Mountain” mash-up, where Dalton turns to Knox, while a crocodile circles a houseboat in the background, and says, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” 

Or something like that.

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About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: