Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House. Photo provided

Overview:

The remake of the 1989 film Road House, starring Patrick Swayze, fails to improve upon the original. Director Doug Liman's film is derivative and lacks the originality and innovation of his previous works. Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as a former UFC athlete is questionable, and the fight scenes are boring and unimaginative. The film's improbable premise and lack of fresh ideas make it unwatchable in the theater, but it may appeal to action film fans when streamed on Prime Video.

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Is there a point to remaking an older movie if you aren鈥檛 going to make it better? Or is it just an easy way out for filmmakers adverse to creating something new? 

Director/producer Doug Liman has an impressive filmography that鈥檚 marked by innovative films that started their own genres. The very hip Swingers. The intense and venomously sexy Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The action-packed thriller The Bourne Identity. So, if you鈥檙e a trendsetter, why choose a derivative project? 

The 1989 film Road House starred Patrick Swayze鈥攊n his heyday. It centered on a handsome dude, with a puffy 鈥80s hairdo, who had a black belt in karate and Ph.D. in philosophy. He鈥檚 hired as a bouncer in a Missouri tavern where fighting is as prevalent as the Budweiser behind the bar.聽

Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Williams in Road House. Photo provided

Spring forward 35 years and this film, which didn鈥檛 win any Academy Awards but plenty of Golden Raspberry trophies (prizes for the worst in cinematic failures), is being redone. Re-written by Anthony Bagarozzi, and Chuck Mondry and based on R. Lance Hill鈥檚 (aka David Lee Henry) original story from back in the day. Why鈥檇 they bother? Probably, not for altruistic reasons. Maybe to keep their Writers Guild of America health insurance?

Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal), who鈥檚 tall, dark and sporting six-pack abs, was once a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) athlete. These days he鈥檚 fighting on the underground circuit for money. Frankie (Jessica Williams) owns the outdoor-styled saloon 鈥淭he Road House鈥 on Glass Key, a small island in the Florida Keys. The proprietress is looking for a bouncer/fighter who can restore order to her violence-plagued establishment. She鈥檚 in town scouting at an ultimate fighter match and offers Dalton the job. He鈥檚 reluctant at first. But when he becomes penniless, carless and destitute, he makes his way down to Glass Key. 

Kevin Carroll, Hanna Love Lanier and Jake Gyllenhaal in Road House. Photo provided

Gyllenhaal played a ripped-to-the-gills boxer before in 2015鈥檚 Southpaw. That sports movie was good, but the actor was great as he gave a gritty and authentic performance. No need to add another pugilist鈥檚 slugfest to his resume. But here he is. As the weak storyline unfolds and Liman fails to pick a tone that works鈥攕illy fight-club or Miami Vice rip-off鈥攖he Oscar nominee鈥檚 (Brokeback Mountain) role choice looks questionable.聽聽

Thugs beat up patrons at the Road House randomly. They鈥檙e egged on by the rich crook Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) who wants the bar鈥檚 prime beach location for redeveloping. Extraneous characters pile into the narrative. Dalton plays footsy with the local doctor Ellie (Daniela Melchoir, Fast X). The town鈥檚 sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida, Fast Five) turns a blind eye. Dalton befriends a teenager (Hanna Love Lanier) who runs a modest bookstore with her dad (Kevin Carroll, Blindspotting). And when the nightly mayhem of fists and broken jaws can鈥檛 get any worse, up pops Knox (Conor McGregor, UFC champ), a diminutive bully of a goon sent in to finish the demolition job Brandt鈥檚 inept hitmen didn鈥檛 complete. 

Jessica Williams in Road House. Photo provided

For this to work on any level, the fights must be the most ingeniously choregraphed bedlam anyone has ever scene. Something in the John Wick category. Instead, the punches, headlocks, body slams and head banging are as feeble as a brawl at a nursing home. Boring, unimaginative and generic. Until the finale. That鈥檚 when a stabbing contest signifies that the stunt coordinator finally woke up. The one other time the pummeling is novel is when a head is beaten against a piano. Dalton slyly comments: 鈥淭his piano is out of tune.鈥澛

Wicked humor mixed with state-of-the-art ultra-violence is sorely missing in the other 2h 1m of the film鈥檚 length (editor Doc Crotzer). The musical score (Christophe Beck), production design (Greg Berry), costumes (Dayna Pink) and cinematography (Henry Braham) are standard issue. McGregor storms around like he鈥檚 on WrestleMania riling up an audience. But he isn鈥檛 an actor. The rest of the cast, including Gyllenhaal, phoned their performances in from a beach chair. The one element that stands out is the setting. The beaches and water. But before booking a road trip to Glass Key, be aware: There isn鈥檛 an island in the lovely Florida Keys name 鈥淕lass,鈥 and the footage was largely shot in the Dominican Republic.聽

Conor McGregor in Road House. Photo provided

The improbable premise can鈥檛 take be taken seriously. The fights on view wouldn鈥檛 energize the desired action film fan base in a theater but might interest them more as it streams on Prime Video. It should be noted that Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/rapper Post Malone plays one of the underground fighters in the early scenes, and his music is featured on the playlist. Smarter, wishful casting would鈥檝e been Malone as Dalton, which may have brought a new, cool, refreshing verve to this piece of deadwood. 

Road House should have been called Out House. Out of synch. Out of style. Out of fresh ideas.

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