Road House: Is the Action Movie Inspired By Reality?

Helmed by Rowdy Herrington, ‘Road House’ is a 1989 action drama film starring Patrick Swayze and is set in a small town in the state of Missouri. It follows a bouncer, James Dalton, who is hired to clean up a local watering hole that always seems to attract trouble. Using his intellect and his masterful martial arts skills, Dalton must keep the troublemakers at bay. Over the years, the film has acquired a cult classic status.

Owing to its ever-increasing popularity, director Doug Liman reimagined the action drama, attempting to retain the essence of the original with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. Considering its gritty setting, compelling storyline and the attention it has garnered over the years, viewers may question whether the story is based on real-life people or incidents.

Road House is a Straightforward Work of Fiction

Screenwriters R. Lance Hill, also known as David Lee Henry, and Hilary Henkin’s work of fiction was first written as a script by Hill, who had presented it to United Artists, the production and distribution company. Although the film’s success has been gradual over the past decades, the journey of Hill’s story isn’t as flashy as one would expect.  Director Rowdy Herrington opened up about his initial reaction to the script in a 2017 interview with The Ringer. The interview revealed, that Herrington initially did not want to involve himself in the project. In his opinion, a script like ‘Road House’ had too many obscenities. Despite his efforts to walk away from the film, well-known producer Joel Silver requested his attendance at a midnight meeting at a 20th Century Fox parking lot.

The “midnight meeting” would serve as the inception of the cult classic we have today. In the interview, Herrington recalled Silver in the process of convincing him, who said, “I think you can do something with it.” By then, the project had already tied in actor Patrick Swayze as the lead. Herrington remembers Silver changing his stance to more of an injunction, saying, “I need you to do this.” So, the director eventually agreed and the rest is history. Herrington further revealed in the interview, “I saw it as a cartoon. Broader than life. Brighter than life.”

For the 2024 remake, Hill is also accredited as a creator of the film. Directed by Doug Liman, the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer seeks to form the same essence as the original film while refurbishing it for modern audiences. While the original film is renowned for its flair and over-the-top sequences, the remake adapts most of Hill’s narrative at its core and then performs many tweaks on it, including character differences, plot changes, and flow.

Liman, whose resume is equipped with some incredible action titles such as The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, takes up the challenge of bringing back the original action flick through his own vision. Accompanied by writers Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry, coming in with their own adjustments, the remake gifts its audience a much-needed revisit to a classic 80s experience, albeit with all the nuances of a modern action flick.

Due to the increase in popularity over the years, the classic film has amassed millions of fans across the globe and hence seeded the interest to pursue a remake. Despite the film being completely fiction, fan theorists have put on their detective hats and conjured a loose connection between a real-life incident and the events of the film. They claim that Hill’s story may have been inspired by Ken McElroy, a criminal and convicted attempted murderer, who was also from Missouri. Fans theorize that the ending incidents of the film resemble the real-life incidents of McElroy.

Although the classic is confirmed to be a work of fiction, fans believe that the real-life story has inspired the film. McElroy was known as the “town bully ” who was mysteriously shot several times and killed in broad daylight in front of a crowd of up to allegedly 46 people, including his wife, who was beside him. No one in the crowd had even called for an ambulance. To this day, not one has been convicted of his murder. In the film, the Double Deuce bar is tormented by troublemakers who face Dalton’s righteous beating as he ultimately saves the day. The essence of both stories may have some similarities, but it is quite safe to say that they are completely unrelated.

As the release of the original film’s remake makes its rounds and introduces the cult classic to a new generation of fans, we are reminded that nostalgia is a powerful tool that brings people together. ‘Road House’ is an example of such films that trigger reminiscences and transcends eras while they steadily move forward into a new age. The stories that are being told may be the same, but each iteration produces its own flair, further providing nostalgic emotions for the multitude that will watch it in the decades to come.

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