After the world premiere of Amazon’s remake of the 1989 cult classic Road House at SXSW on Friday night, star Jake Gyllenhaal offered a tribute to Patrick Swayze, the performer who originated the lead role of Dalton that Gyllenhaal reprises in the new film. The late Swayze, a Houston native, delivered one of his most soulful performances in an unabashedly pretty silly action movie about a star bouncer who protects a roadside honky-tonk called the Double Deuce from the evil machinations of a corrupt businessman. Swayze, as we all know, had layers. 

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t [mention] Mr. Swayze,” Gyllenhaal said after the screening, when panel moderator Dax Shepard asked which big-screen tough guy most inspired him as a young man. He grew up on Point Break and Dirty Dancing, he said, and the ineffable Swayziness of Dalton’s originator allowed him to elevate even material as idiosyncratic as Road House into something iconic. “He was just packed with charisma—so much so that it’s pushed this story, even to here,” Gyllenhaal said. 

Gyllenhaal doesn’t attempt to impersonate Swayze in the new film, which will be released on Amazon Prime—and not in theaters, a decision that led director Doug Liman to spend the post-screening Q&A in his seat in the crowd, rather than onstage, in protest—on March 21. Rather, Gyllenhaal fills his version of Dalton with something resembling his own personality.

Swayze’s Dalton is a philosopher who believes, however bizarrely, that calming a rowdy bar scene is a calling. He’s not a bouncer but a “cooler,” someone who helps lower the temperature of the space. He’s a badass and a tough guy, but those traits aren’t what define him—rather, it’s his conviction that there is a right way to do the job, centered around a single point of emphasis. “Be nice,” he declares in the film’s most iconic monologue, delivered to a group of toughs who’ve thus far failed to keep things chill at the Double Deuce. If someone gets in your face screaming obscenities, he explains, “I want you to be nice.” No matter how aggressive the opponent, Swayze’s Dalton maintains, someone trying to cool the temperature of a roadhouse should be nice at every step of the process, from the initial approach through to escorting them outside, and whatever happens after that. That’s the kind of badass Swayze’s Dalton is—the kind whose toughness is related through the fact that he has nothing to prove. “Being called a c—sucker ain’t personal?” one of the tough guys asks during the lesson, to which Dalton calmly responds that it is not. “It’s two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response,” he says, a faint smirk on his face.

It’s the sort of character Swayze was born to play, communicating his machismo with an uncommon sense of grace. It is not the sort of character Jake Gyllenhaal was born to play, and so in the 2024 interpretation of Road House, he doesn’t try. Swayze’s Dalton has a PhD in philosophy and reads Legends of the Fall shirtless in bed; Gyllenhaal’s is an ex–cage fighter who left the octagon after killing an opponent, and he replaces Swayze’s serenity with sarcasm and one-liners. Where Swayze’s interpretation of the character was driven by a sense of purpose, Gyllenhaal’s is motivated by his past shame. 

Watching the new Road House, I found myself missing the philosophical bent of the original. The 1989 film is not exactly good—it’s wildly uneven, basically incoherent in terms of its plot, and often dreadfully boring (there’s only so much shirtless meditation a film can make look interesting). But when it is good, it’s downright sublime, with Swayze creating a vision of masculinity that’s deeply satisfying but well outside the tropes and stereotypes with which we’re all familiar. The 2024 film is much more consistent as a movie throughout—but the bad parts are only maybe 50 percent less bad, while the good parts never approach Swayze’s transcendent heights. 

In the remake, the narrative makes a bit more sense (though you’ll still want to avoid asking questions like “why don’t the bad guys just burn down the road house?” or the 114-minute film will feel about 108 minutes too long). The villains have believable motives, except for the bad guy played by former UFC champion Conor McGregor, who manages to be watchably cartoonish. The supporting players, a group that includes Lukas Gage, Daniela Melchior, and Jessica Williams, all have their charms. The 2024 Road House is a perfectly acceptable action movie, with Gyllenhaal playing Dalton as a calm sociopath who discourages violence by telling his opponents exactly how he’s going to hurt them before he does it, and who drives them to the hospital afterwards. As in the original, there are moments that are designed to make viewers’ jaws drop, and it’s a shame the film won’t receive a theatrical release, because it’s meant to be collectively cheered and gasped at. 

But even though the first Road House is a mess by comparison, that movie felt very much like the product of a particular vision. It’s one in which such a thing as a famous bouncer exists; where that man can be soulful and contemplative, a warrior with a heart of gold and a dark past who drops effortless bon mots like “nobody ever wins a fight” and “pain don’t hurt” with the cadence of—well, of Patrick Swayze. It’s a celluloid world where a villain can deliver the line “I used to f— guys like you in prison” with such menace that it’s still shocking to hear, even 35 years later. It’s a vision where Sam Elliott can have the most perfect hair ever captured on film, and where the highest possible stakes involve what happens to a dive bar in some forgotten town in Missouri. 

Action blockbusters in 2024 don’t get to feel like the idiosyncratic brainchild of filmmakers, screenwriters, and actors who wondered, “What if the toughest bouncer around was also super into philosophy?” And ultimately, that means the new Road House feels too smooth around the edges. In the quest to make everything more or less comprehensible to audiences (or to studio execs with a bunch of notes), there isn’t space for sublime moments like Dalton helping a room full of bouncers reconsider their own machismo. 
The final product might be easier to recommend to someone who isn’t a particular kind of weirdo, but it’s also less interesting, and certainly less memorable, than the one in which Patrick Swayze could spend ninety full seconds explaining why it’s important to be nice to someone whose ass you’re about to kick. Road House, in its original form, has long felt like the sort of movie that just could never get made these days—and by remaking it with Jake Gyllenhaal in the Patrick Swayze role, Amazon proved that theory correct.