The Made-For-TV Movie Is Back. With A Kick.

There hasn’t been much available in theatres so far this year to justify the significant expense of time and money to schlep out of the comfort of one’s home.  Anyone who questions whether or not climate change is real should consider the rash of spring snowstorms and West Coast rainstroms and compare that to the kind of days we have seen in past years.  No question, it’s real.

More real, perhaps, than the declarations that came out of the spin machine of Amazon MGM Studios that declared its remake of ROAD HOUSE as record-breaking and a bona fide hit.  As DEADLINE’s Anthony D’Alessandro dutifully regurgitated:

Doug Liman’s reboot of the 1980s cult title, Road House, has clocked a massive 50M-plus viewers on Prime Video over its first two weekends. Amazon reports that it’s a record — beating the eyeballs of any original movie they’ve ever produced for Prime Video.  “The groundbreaking, successful debut of Road House is a testament to the hard work and commitment from the entire Road House filmmaking team and the film’s cast led by the phenomenal Jake Gyllenhaal,” beamed Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon MGM Studios. “The world is absolutely loving this entertaining, action-packed ride anchored by the performances of Jake, Conor McGregor, Daniela Melchior, Darren Barnet, Billy Magnussen, Jessica Williams, Lukas Gage, Arturo Castro, JD Pardo, and the rest of our stellar cast. It’s great to see the film taking off with both fans of the iconic original as well as a huge turnout from new audiences. This incredible film is really giving everyone something to talk about, and we couldn’t be more proud!”

I suppose we need to cut Salke some slack for a level of enthusiasm that warrants an exclamation point in a statement, as she hasn’t had much positive to talk about, or even create out of thin air, since she declared the $300 million international multiverse of CITADEL a hit with equal gushiness, at about the time that the company announced a massive series of layoffs.  When we reported on that in January, we referenced FORBES’ Paul Tassi’s eye-rolling observations about how Salke seems to have a penchant for determining with her own caveats what’s working.

What makes this series of declarations even more eye-opening than those of last year was the fact that not only have the reviews for the remake of the beloved 1989 MGM film that showed the world that Jennifer Grey’s favorite dance partner, Patrick Swayze, was far more of a badass than we knew been negative, but even the people who made this version were not exactly sympatico with how the Salke regime decided to release it.

Per Wikipedia:

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 59% of 184 critics’ reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.6/10. The website’s consensus reads: “Road House updates a cult classic for a new generation, happily replicating the original’s emphasis on cheesy brawn over narrative brains.”[28] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 58 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating “mixed or average” reviews.  Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com gave the film a score of 2 out of 4. He criticized the extensive use of CGI for fight sequences. He wrote “Punches and their reactions look like cut scenes in a video game far too often, especially a long bar brawl and a boat sequence in the end that have CGI so janky that I wonder if the reason that Prime didn’t want this on a big screen was because people would be less likely to notice on a small screen”.[34] Rocco T. Thompson of Slant Magazine wrote that “any excitement evaporates as it becomes abundantly clear that the well-choreographed match-ups have been accentuated with unfortunate instances of CGI, undercutting the immersion of the action”. He gave it a score of 1.5 out of 4.[35] Kevin Maher of the Times awarded the movie two stars out of five, writing that “Jake Gyllenhaal is embarrassingly outshone by the mixed martial artist Conor McGregor in this pointless remake of the Eighties movie with Patrick Swayze.”[36]

And per D’Alessandro:

Liman expressed his frustration on Deadline that Road House wasn’t going theatrical, and initially refused to show up at the SXSW premiere. However, he came around to support his movie in Austin, TX.

But in a world where the challenge is simply to deliver something into the home that’s acceptable and convenient, things like critical acclaim and creators’ support are secondary to what Amazon has proven to be second to none to any company on Earth in that realm.  They also have reams of proprietary data on the preferences and habits of its global customers.  And here’s one nugget I suspect some of the smarter folks that Salke has on what remains of her staff have unearthed about the Swayze version, again per Wikipedia:

The film has gone on to be a cult classic, being voted the most watched film on cable in 2020.[5][6]

And that seemed to be true even back in the 90s.  A recent celebratory podcast on Bill Simmons’ REWATCHABLES gushed about the ubiquity and accessibility of the original on pay TV channels after a mediocre theatrical release, and even the hindsight of how the film is both action and satirical in the same breath.  The Liman version is arguably even more so, with the likes of Conor McGregor added to the cast, as Gyllendahl’s version of lead character Dalton is an ex-UFC star who now owns a dive bar in the Florida Keys.

So maybe making this available to devices around the world where it can be consumed during spring break, where sobreity is optional, wasn’t such a bad idea?

In effect, this is a made-for-TV movie, a strategy discovered to be effective in the early ’70s by two then up-and-coming ABC programming executives named Barry Diller and Michael Eisner.  They weren’t theatrical movies by any stretch of the imagination, but they were more than good enough to give ABC newfound credibility and younger audiences that laid the foundation for their series success later in the decade.  Diller and Eisner then did pretty well in the ensuing years in the old school world, to

So Salke and company may actually knew what they were doing, and because unlike the case with Thursday Night Football, where actual Nielsen data needed to be ordered to appease advertisers, in this case, Amazon’s own global footprint and proprietary, detail-ambigious definition of viewers can be used as “currency” that underscores that the franchise can still deliver to home screens.  And it cost a LOT less than Citadel, and WAAAY less than RINGS OF POWER.

And it may even give Seth MacFarlane a way to refresh his take, which for my money is a necessary adjacent view to either version.

Until next time…

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