Gyllenhaal reinvents ‘Road House’

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NEW YORK, March 20, (AP): Elwood P. Dalton is a classy sort of bouncer. While five tough guys circle him outside a bar looking to bash his skull in, he has a question for them: “Before we start, do you have insurance?” And after savagely beating each up, he kindly drives them to the hospital. Dalton – played by a muscular and languid Jake Gyllenhaal – is a former UFC fighter with a dark past in “Road House,” a reworking of the pulpy 1989 action film starring Patrick Swayze. “You sure you thought this all the way through?” Dalton at one point asks an assailant who has the nerve to plunge a knife into his abdomen. The same question can be asked of the filmmakers: Is it really wise to retread this old fl ick? The answer is as shocking as a sucker punch: Yes, indeed.

Gyllenhaal is a sort of Spider-Manmeets- Jack Reacher-meets Jason Bourne, an oddball loner with ferocious fighting abilities who makes a living in illegal fights and lives in his car, haunted by what he did to a friend in the octagon. He douses booze on his open wounds and uses electrical tape instead of a bandage, yet he also oddly uses wheelie luggage. (You expected a big old black duffel, right?) What’s in the baggage? A death wish, of course. He is lured to the Florida Keys by a roadhouse bar owner (the always brilliantly tart Jessica Williams), who needs an excellent bouncer to protect her from nightly violence.

He’s offered $5,000 a week to stop thugs in sleeveless jean jackets from throwing bottles, flipping tables, and breaking pool cues. (The Florida tourist board will love this movie). “I’m hoping you’re different,” a bar employee says and he is. Dalton settles in the fictional Glass Key, dates a cutie, makes friends with the good folk and lives in what all damaged loners gravitate to, a houseboat. He soon teaches the other bouncers the tricks of the trade, Zen-like, and finds excellent reasons to take off his shirt. “I’m just some guy,” he says. “You don’t want to know me.” Then he uncovers a conspiracy right out of “Scooby-Doo:” The land under the bar is crucial to the creation of a luxury resort dreamed up by the local rich guy and crooked cops. Organized crime is trying to drive the bar owner out of business. “Zoinks!”

Acting debut

At this point, “Road House” gets an instant jolt of electricity from former UFC fighter Conor McGregor, who makes his acting debut as a psychotic gun-for-hire Knox. He may have one of the best intros in film history, casually walking down a European town buck-naked except for a pair of boots. Dalton and Knox are destined to go mano-a-mano and there’s a grudging respect between them. They’re both deeply cut and they’re both messed up. “There’s something wrong with you. Me too,” the Irish mountain of muscles says. He’s the sort of chaos agent who picks up a golf club and says he wants to go “clubbing.” Like a night of heavy drinking, things get a little bizarre toward the end of the movie as it starts straying far from the roadhouse. Speed boats go flying, explosions go bang and someone uses arson to send a message. A deadly crocodile that plays an outsized role is sadly abandoned. Screenwriters Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry have leaned into cliches – dead mothers, doublecrosses and quirky kids that pull out the paternal part of our heroes. But a menacing, unstable McGregor is a gift.

So is Billy Magnussen, who plays the rich boy bully deliciously preppy. He’s so evil, he throws his cellphone into the ocean out of frustration, then asks an underling to retrieve it. “The Bourne Identity” director Doug Liman seems to be having fun, his camera lingering on the chiseled beefsteak and mixing in honky tonk songs by the deliciously named Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters. The action scenes are dynamite, layering POV camera work with great, thundering, bottle-smashing stunts. It knows it’s silly, but it’s still a good time. That’s reason enough that Liman is upset the movie is avoiding cineplexes and going straight to streaming. But he could rectify that. He could hire, like, an unstable, but gracious, former fighter who lives in his car. For a few thousand, that guy can make things right. “Road House,” an Amazon MGM Studios release streaming on Prime Video from March 21, is rated R for “nudity, violence, alcohol use and foul language.” Running time: 114 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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