DwighBrownInk.com: Road House Movie Review

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

(www.DwighBrownInk.com / www.blackpressusa.com)| Is there a point to remaking an older movie if you aren’t 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’s 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’re a trendsetter, why choose a derivative project?

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

Spring forward 35 years and this film, which didn’t 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’s (aka David Lee Henry) original story from back in the day. Why’d they bother? Probably, not for altruistic reasons. Maybe to keep their Writers Guild of America health insurance?

Elwood Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s tall, dark and sporting six-pack abs, was once a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) athlete. These days he’s fighting on the underground circuit for money. Frankie (Jessica Williams) owns the outdoor-styled saloon “The Road House” 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’s in town scouting at an ultimate fighter match and offers Dalton the job. He’s reluctant at first. But when he becomes penniless, carless and destitute, he makes his way down to Glass Key.

Gyllenhaal played a ripped-to-the-gills boxer before in 2015’s 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’s slugfest to his resume. But here he is. As the weak storyline unfolds and Liman fails to pick a tone that works—silly fight-club or Miami Vice rip-off—the Oscar nominee’s (Brokeback Mountain) role choice looks questionable.

Thugs beat up patrons at the Road House randomly. They’re egged on by the rich crook Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) who wants the bar’s 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’s 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’t get any worse, up pops Knox (Conor McGregor, UFC champ), a diminutive bully of a goon sent in to finish the demolition job Brandt’s inept hitmen didn’t complete.

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’s 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: “This piano is out of tune.”

Wicked humor mixed with state-of-the-art ultra-violence is sorely missing in the other 2h 1m of the film’s 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’s on WrestleMania riling up an audience. But he isn’t 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’t an island in the lovely Florida Keys name “Glass,” and the footage was largely shot in the Dominican Republic.

The improbable premise can’t take be taken seriously. The fights on view wouldn’t 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’ve 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.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0ZsLudtfjI
Visit Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.


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