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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    'Road House' review: Remake honors low stakes of its predecessor

    When it comes to the world of remakes, 1989's "Road House" is not some sacred text that dare not be touched. The Patrick Swayze-starrer is a slice of pure '80s action cheese, elevated by the presence of its star, who brought his Zen sense of calm to the role of James Dalton, the toughest, coolest bouncer rural Missouri has ever seen.

    Director Doug Liman's updated "Road House" honors its source material by not taking itself too seriously and also not becoming some winking, self-referential meme fest. It's a fun, straightforward action movie with big fights, low stakes and a firm sense of its own place in the world. Come for the abs, stay for a beer, no shirt, no shoes, no problem.

    An impressively shredded Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Elwood Dalton — don't worry, he's not some sort of descendant of Swayze's Dalton, we're not building out a universe here — an MMA fighter who washes out of UFC and is looking for a fresh start. He gets his shot when he's hired to be a bouncer at a particularly rowdy beachside bar in the Florida Keys, where owner Frankie (Jessica Williams) is constantly being threatened by bad dudes of the biker bully variety. (The Dominican Republic stands in for the fictional Glass Key.)

    Dalton — who doesn't wear a shirt for about two-thirds of the movie, and even when he does, he allows his abs to get a tan — goes about trying to clean up the place, mostly with his fists, and through his training of the bar's younger bouncers, including Billy (Lukas Gage) and Reef (Dominique Columbus). Turns out some of those bad apples terrorizing the bar are goons working for Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen, great as a spoiled slimeball), who wants to tear down the bar to build a mega resort. Brandt has ties all the way to the top of the town, including the crooked sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida), who is known around town as Big Dick, because that's what kind of movie this is.

    And "Road House" knows exactly what kind of movie it is, which makes it a good-time romp, which is only accelerated by the arrival of Irish madman and ex-UFC fighter Conor McGregor, who comes on like a lightning bolt that causes an earthquake which opens up a hole in the Earth. He plays Knox, who wears a chain around his neck that says Knox, and also has Knox Knox Knox tatted across his chest, lest anyone forget his name. He's the movie's frothing-at-the-mouth 500-pound gorilla, and makes a more than formidable foe for Gyllenhaal's Dalton.

    Information about Dalton's past is slowly parsed out over the course of Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry's economical screenplay, but we get the gist of it pretty early on: he's running from some demons, which spilled over during a live bout in UFC. Gyllenhaal's laid back, happy-go-lucky exterior doesn't always jibe with that darkness, but his is an effective performance in a movie that's not digging too deep into any explorations of pain or trauma. You're here for the fights, and "Road House" delivers.

    There are a couple of odd-looking digitally rendered effects pieces deployed throughout that detract from the mostly tactile, blood-and-sweat nature of the proceedings, but "Road House" is nonetheless a rousing action movie that delivers the goods. It's a sun-kissed, balled fist homage to the House that Swayze built. The original Dalton would be proud.

    ———

    'ROAD HOUSE'

    Grade: B

    MPA rating: R (for violence throughout, pervasive language and some nudity)

    Running time: 1:54

    How to watch: Prime Video

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