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Release Date: 03/21/24 [Prime Video]
Genre: Action. Thriller.

Studio: MGM. 

[Seen for SXSW Film Festival 2024]

"Ex-UFC fighter Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes a job as a bouncer at a Florida Keys roadhouse, only to discover that this paradise is not all it seems." 


Summer movie season has ostensibly arrived early with Doug Liman's bloody, profane rendition of the Patrick Swayze classic, Road House. This time, Jake Gyllenhaal laces up as the brooding bouncer tasked with policing the riff-raff that enters the eponymous Road House bar. This often explosive reimagining moves the location from Missouri to the Florida Keys, rife with the dressings and trimmings of the Sunshine State that are all written into the plot at various points. From alligators, boats, bikes, and bars, this new Road House is either the most polished Florida advertisement or a stern warning to others. The only components that writers Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry didn't throw in to sell the location were Mickey Mouse and hurricanes. 


The plot deviates very little from the original film, and frankly, there was never much there to begin with. Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal), a disgraced former UFC fighter and part-time hustler, gets hired by Frankie (Jessica Williams) to bounce at her local bar, aptly christened The Road House. The bar deals with an extraordinary amount of violent customers, so much so that the live band plays music behind chicken wire for their protection. The reason for such escalated destruction is that local bad guy and all-around schmuck Ben (Billy Magnussen) needs to clear out and bulldoze the Road House establishment so he can secure his resort development deal. The arrival of Dalton, whose reputation precedes him, as evidenced by everyone in town paying him obligatory good mornings and hellos, provides another obstacle for Ben to deal with. 


This basic set-up gives way for many campy and cliche elements to surface: the local doctor takes a romantic shine to Dalton, the corrupt sheriff (also the doctor's father) is in cahoots with Ben due to Ben's father's criminal connections, which leads to Conor McGregor's arrival about halfway into the film, as the hired gun to trash the Road House once and for all and permanently displace Dalton. 


Even without being a remake, Road House adopts many familiar character tropes, action sequences, romantic beats, and action movie set-ups that a viewer could be forgiven to think this is not a remake but a bastardization of a thousand films that came before it. However, as basic as Road House might sound on paper, it is nothing short of a fun, goofy experience.


The standout here is Gyllenhaal. He commands a grand presence without needing to say or do much. This role taps into the quiet comedic timing Gyllenhaal possesses but rarely gets to exhibit in his more serious and toned-down work. A strong example of this occurs shortly after Dalton arrives at the Road House, where he quells a rowdy group of bikers by deftly leading them outside the establishment and systematically overpowers all of them. The whole concept of a soft-spoken tough guy outwits, outsmarts, and outmaneuvers a larger group of mouth-breathing, smack-talking meatheads by himself is requisite in action flick screenwriting. Doug Liman's use of timing and pacing makes this scene, dare I say, punch a little harder with clever editing of confused glances and powerful blows, all of which are punctuated by smart, witty dialogue uttered by Dalton. 


Enter Conor McGregor as Knox, the late-to-the-party antagonist who is paid to swoop in to serve a closing notice to the Road House and deliver Dalton a one-way trip to either the hospital or the grave. McGregor's Knox is memorable in that he is every bit like Conor McGregor: rude, surly, extremely fit, and has zero empathy for his enemies. He plays a fun bad guy, though often I needed to rely on body language and context clues to understand what he was saying half the time. His dialogue, which is already filled with absurdities, is compounded by his thick accent, making some of his finer threats quite challenging to discern.


Knox's presentation is quite indicative of Doug Liman's direction of Road House as a whole. This film does not shy away from being an over-the-top barrel of energy that is not what I call a great or even a good one, but it is definitely fun. The set pieces are imaginative and exciting. The fight choreography is believable and hard-hitting, with the credit being owed to not only the stunt and visual effects teams but to the sound department as well. When someone breaks a bone, loses a limb, or gets a knife stuck in their gut, you hear all of it with intimate detail.  


The biggest selling point for Road House is Jake Gyllenhaal as Dalton. With an impressive and often pseudo-serious body of work already in his catalog, it was time for him to let his hair down with this role. A more appropriate metaphor would be to take his shirt off, which is actually what virtually every scene requires of him. Not only is Gyllenhaal's physique imposing, so are his comedic chops he dusted off for this film. Gyllenhaal's embodiment of Dalton breathes so much fun energy that I hope it's a role he can find again in a sequel or spinoff.


There is an implied responsibility for remakes: live up to the original film. This is an impossible task for the older audience who walk into a remake with set expectations. It may not be fair, but it is often the reality. A younger, or at least unbiased, audience has no more expectation than to enjoy the experience the remake offers. For the third group who has seen and loved the original Road House, this remake cannot replicate what Swayze has already done. But this Road House is worth stopping at least once for a beer and music. Just don't get too rowdy.

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