One man with a checkered past and considerable hand-to-hand combat expertise saves a run-down bar. It was a good enough premise for the 1989 original Road House, released during the over-the-top 80s action boom of Stallone, Van-Damme, and Schwarzenegger. The late great Patrick Swayze’s commitment to the James Dalton character was enough for the price of admission. That’s part of the reason why shows like Family Guy have referenced the film in its furious use of pop culture references. director Doug Liman’s 2024 at least partially commits to the B-level camp and tries to go for that feel in some aspects. However, this installment is mired in trying to be many things within its story, even with the characters’ motivations. Does 2024’s Road House want to be more of a severe rumination of regret or a cartoonish, stylistic beat-em-up? It doesn’t seem to know the answer.

Leaving the original’s settling of Jasper, Missouri, we get transported to the Florida Keys and find an ex-UFC fighter named Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) running a scam within an underground fight club to earn money. There, bar owner Frankie (Jessica Williams) finds him and offers him an offer to be a head bouncer to provide some protection from nefarious people behind the scenes. Elwood is exceptionally down on his luck, battling a situation where he loses control of his anger in the octagon and punches an opponent (presumably his friend) to death. It’s something progressively heavy to carry around, and as a last-ditch effort to turn things around, Elwood agrees to do the job. The Road House is a beautiful-looking tiki-style bar that sports an eclectic mix of live music options. It happens to be caught in a land dispute within the Glass Key community that Ben (Billy Magnussen) wants to get their hands on for his jailed father. So, he sends hired guns into the place night after night to stir up trouble. Not on Elwood’s watch! A positive thing you can say about Liman’s iteration of Road House is that it boasts an updated visual aesthetic that fully captures how beautiful the Florida landscape is. With that, Liman and cinematographer Henry Braham utilize camera and fight choreography techniques to put viewers right in the heart of the action.

Sometimes, it works very well, having you feel the impact of every punch and even taking on Elwood’s viewpoint. In other places, CGI stands out, making some of the fights feel like a video game. It’s unfortunate because 2024’s Road House makes good on an early promise of having a lot of brawls. A cadence occurs where scenes transition from looking at the particular music stylings of the bar and right to roughhousing. 

Instead of going into the campiness of the original, Liman’s version tries to instill a bit of seriousness into the plot. In some ways, that hinders Gyllenhaal and his commitment to slick one-liners as he dismantles all comers. Road House calls on Elwood to learn the lesson of self-control, but the audience never gets a sense of how close he is to his deceased friend aside from some brief flashback nightmares. There’s even a question of how devoted Elwood is to saving the bar at all. Midway through the film, his character basically teaches the understudies everything they need to know, and he spends his time watching out for a teenager named Charlie (Hannah Lanier), who watches over her father’s bookstore. Besides a budding romance with ER doctor Ellie (Daniela Melchior), Elwood’s character lacks atonement and growth.  In addition to the odds being stacked against our furious fighting protagonist from Ben, there’s a corrupt sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida) and maniacal henchman Knox (Conor McGregor). Knox might be the most polarizing part of the film because his aura lacks structure—it’s rather fascinating to watch. McGregor feels like his UFC persona is elevated to the tenth degree in this film, providing some funny and head-scratching scenarios. That said, Knox’s brand of villainy and ridiculousness is straight out of an 80s film. With McGregor’s fight background, his scenes with Gyllenhaal prove to be the most realistic-looking Road House has to offer. 

So, who is the 2024 version of Road House for? Well, it tries to combine many ingredients from different plates for a nostalgic yet new-tasting dish. But trying to create something familiar yet new might confuse taste buds.