Tuesday, April 23, 2024

“ROAD HOUSE”

THE STORY – A former UFC middleweight fighter ends up working at a roadhouse in the Florida Keys where things are not as they seem.

THE CAST – Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniela Melchior, Billy Magnussen, Jessica Williams, Joaquim de Almeida, Austin Post & Conor McGregor

THE TEAM – Doug Liman (Director), Anthony Bagarozzi & Charles Mondry (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 114 Minutes


Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Many popular films from past eras engage in storytelling tropes that barely passed muster even back then but worked by tapping into something ineffable in the culture of the time. If you can’t recreate that, then remaking one of those films probably won’t go well, as all you’re left with is a string of clichés in the rough shape of a film. “Road House,” the Patrick Swayze vehicle, is one of these such films. It is a blatant rip-off of the old Westerns like Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” trilogy, where a bad-ass loner of a drifter comes into town and shakes up the local order by getting on the wrong side of some bad men who find out all too quickly that this new guy is way out of their league, “Road House” worked by embracing Swayze’s unique persona as an intelligent, sensitive tough guy. Swayze’s James Dalton was somehow a black belt with a Ph.D. in Philosophy who just so happened to always carry his medical records with him. An improbable man, but that’s what movies are for To transport the audience to a fantasy world that looks like our own but operates by a different, more narratively satisfying, set of rules.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s screen persona is close enough to Swayze’s that his casting in Doug Liman’s “Road House” remake could have worked. However, credited screenwriters Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry have removed the warrior-poet aspect of the character, instead making him just a warrior. More specifically, a UFC fighter so that everyone can gag on the stunt casting of former UFC Champion Conor McGregor and watch him go a few rounds with a buff-as-fuck movie star. While Liman’s “Road House” works decently as a Gyllenhaal vehicle, it’s missing a lot of the more bizarre specificity that made the ’80s film such a beloved product of its time. Yes, Gyllenhaal’s puppy-dog eyes and lopsided grin add a sensitivity to the character that makes him compelling to watch. Still, for all that this version calls out its Western influences, it’s much more of a straight-up, no-frills action flick.

Gyllenhaal’s Dalton (first name: Elwood) has fallen on tough times. He doesn’t even have to fight to make money anymore, as his mere presence causes most fighters to back down, leaving him with the winnings without throwing a single punch. Desperate for cash after badly damaging his car, he takes a job he wasn’t interested in Bouncer at a roadhouse in the Florida Keys. Bar owner Frankie (Jessica Williams) inherited the bar from her father and wants to live up to his standard, but local thugs working for wealthy developer Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) have purposefully been causing a nightly ruckus in the hopes of shutting the place down for good. At first, Dalton handles things well and even trains a couple of the men working at the roadhouse (cheekily named The Road House) to handle tough situations. But when unpredictable, psychotic fixer Knox (McGregor) shows up, Dalton realizes he’s gotten in much deeper than he bargained for.

Gyllenhaal is far and away the best thing about the film, with his charm and overly casual line deliveries wringing as much humor as possible out of the dialogue. He’s bringing genuine movie star heat, and cinematographer Henry Braham shoots him like one, lighting Gyllenhaal’s jaw-droppingly chiseled torso to gleam in practically every shot. With rippling abs, rock-hard biceps, and that diamond-cut jawline, Gyllenhaal looks goddamn majestic in some shots. The supporting cast is full of fun performances – Williams is so natural onscreen she’s impossible to resist, Daniela Melchior can make even this underwritten love interest interesting with her mere presence, Magnussen is a perfect, privileged douchebag, and Arturo Castro is hilarious as the nicest of Brandt’s henchmen – but none of them can compare to the charisma grenade that is Conor McGregor. Strutting around like a peacock among pigs and tearing into dialogue like a hungry lion, McGregor is obviously having the time of his life every second he’s onscreen. It’s not a good performance by any measure, but it is a compulsively watchable one.

As it turns out, that descriptor is apt for the film as a whole. Liman and Braham have concocted a visceral shooting style for the fight sequences that are effective for most of the film. When it comes time for the big finale, though, the camerawork goes into overdrive – ducking, weaving, and swooping in and out of a fighter’s-eye-view shot that must have sounded cool on paper but becomes nauseating in practice. The romance between Gyllenhaal and Melchior feels completely tacked on, and every character other than Dalton has exactly one note to play. Great filmmaking, this isn’t, but Gyllenhaal is so charming that even the worst dialogue and thinnest plot can be forgiven, especially since the action sequences are mostly rowdy fun. However, the clichés keep piling up as “Road House” goes on, and without any twists to freshen them up, the film’s style becomes more important to its entertainment value. Unfortunately, when it needs to land a knockout punch in the last act, it falls flat on its ass. This “Road House” probably won’t have the lasting reputation that the ’80s version did. It’s entertaining enough for one watch but lacks that spark that makes for a classic.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Jake Gyllenhaal is in full-on movie star mode in Doug Liman's energetic, visceral '80s remake.

THE BAD - Long live clichéd storytelling!

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Jake Gyllenhaal is in full-on movie star mode in Doug Liman's energetic, visceral '80s remake.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Long live clichéd storytelling!<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"ROAD HOUSE"