April 24, 2024

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‘Road House’ review: Jake Gyllenhaal reboot doesn’t pass inspection

4 min read

Hollywood keeps reaching back to the 1980s and 1990s for remakes that inevitably prove to be unnecessary and disposable. I suppose the good news is these updates or reboots or re-imaginings, or whatever you want to call them, leave such a light footprint that we quickly forget ‘em.

Let’s put it this way: If someone suggested watching “Red Dawn” or “Robocop” or “About Last Night …” or “Point Break,” would you immediately think of the remakes from the 2010s — or the originals? Does anyone remember ANYTHING about the 2012 version of “Total Recall” or the 2017 edition of “Flatliners”?

One imagines the same fate awaits the intermittently entertaining but clunky and quite dopey 2024 edition of “Road House.” Not that the 1989 original directed by Rowdy Herrington and starring Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott, Kelly Lynch and Ben Gazzara was some kind of classic, but it played like an elevated B-movie modern Western and had a clean and streamlined script that stayed on point throughout.

The remake bounces all over the place with a convoluted storyline, a number of superfluous characters and two main villains who are sorely lacking — one because he’s a bland nothing, the other because he’s so far over the top it’s like he’s in a Saturday morning cartoon.

A shredded Jake Gyllenaal takes on the Swayze role as Dalton, but this time around Dalton’s first name is Elwood, which leads to a discussion in the film about embarrassing first names and the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue,” and that’s a page of the script that should have been deleted before production commenced. Dalton is a former UFC standout with a troubled past (you can probably guess what happened) who is recruited by a woman named Frankie (Jessica Williams) to take over head bouncer duties at her roadhouse in the Florida Keys, which is named Road House, ha ha.

Over the last many weeks, a gang of movie-generic thugs have been igniting brawls and tearing the place up night after night, and Frankie can’t go to the cops because they’re on the take, and I guess nobody thinks to contact the media or capture the mayhem on smartphones and share it on YouTube. This is a self-contained community, sort of like a frontier town in the Old West, and for another cringe moment, there’s a precocious tween character who tells Dalton it’s like he’s the anti-hero in a Western.

Gyllenhaal’s Dalton doesn’t carry the Zen philosophies of his predecessor, but he does have a dark sense of humor, i.e., when he asks how far it is to the nearest hospital before taking on those aforementioned biker brutes, and then is nice enough to drive them to the emergency room after he’s busted ‘em up.

Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between, as “Road House” alternates between the expertly choreographed fight sequences that take place in the bar while various bands keep playing behind chicken wire, and a generic crime thriller plot that often takes us out on the water.

Billy Magnussen is a fine actor, but his Brandt is a clichéd character: the petulant and corrupt son of the local crime boss (who is in prison), who wants to take possession of the Road House so he can build, yep, a giant resort development that will rob the town of all its charms. Brandt is a lightweight and also an idiot; in an early scene, he demands that a barber shave him with a straight razor on his boat as it navigates some seriously choppy waters. This. Scene. Makes. No. Sense.

A mercenary (Conor McGregor) is hired by a crime boss to kill Dalton.

A mercenary (Conor McGregor) is hired by a crime boss to kill Dalton.

Even more regrettable is the casting of the colorful and controversial Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor as Knox, a psychopathic mercenary hired by Brandt’s dad to kill Dalton. All the over-the-top antics that make McGregor such an entertaining personality in real life are lost in translation to the big screen, as McGregor stomps around like he’s playing to the last row of an arena, and barks his lines as if he’s in a terribly written “SNL” sketch. It’s a performance that irritates like a grain of sand that has wafted into your eye.

Jessica Williams’ Frankie all but disappears from the story for large chunks of times. The wonderful Daniela Melchior has almost nothing to do in the Kelly Lynch role as the local doctor who takes a shine to Dalton. Post Malone is in this movie, but I’ve already almost forgotten that Post Malone is in this movie.

Director Doug Liman knows how to stage action films; his previous works include “The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” Many of the fights here are shown in long shots, and one imagines Gyllenhaal and McGregor and the supporting players and the stunt men all had a grand time tossing each other about and breaking lots of furniture.

Good on them. We’re ready to move on from the new “Road House” and cue up the original. It’s available on platforms such as Amazon Prime and YouTube and Fandango at Home — and I can hear 1989 Rick Dalton saying, “What’s a U-Tube? What’s Fandango and Home where? What are those words you’re saying?”


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