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Visit the new Road House for the catharsis as Jake Gyllenhaal and Doug Liman team up for a fun smackdown on men behaving badly.

Macho Movie

Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) breaks bones
Dalton (Jake Gyllenhaal) breaks bones

Let’s put the original rough-housing extravaganza in some sort of perspective. Road House was a commercial and critical dud early in the summer silly season of 1989. It grossed $30 million in an era when $100 million at the box office was the minimum standard for blockbuster status. That summer, Tim Burton’s Batman brought in $251 million domestically, with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade raking in around $200 million domestically.

Be it nostalgia or some other cultural course correction, Patrick Swayze’s Road House now boasts a 5-star average score based on 8,874 ratings on Amazon Prime.

Regardless, Swayze’s Road House is still a “dumb” macho movie, albeit one that exploits the timeless appeal of formulaic revenge movies wherein bad guys do despicable things then get their comeuppance. In this case, it’s at the hands of Swayze’s chainsmoking James Dalton. Along the way, throw in an assortment of bare breasts and butts; a healthy dose of rock ‘n’ roll (thanks to the Jeff Healey Band); gratuitous violence and bare-chested muscle heads and it’s the stuff of Hollywood legend.

Now, 35 years later, Road House has been remade. But it’s not a standard frame-by-frame remake; it’s quite a reimagining, a modernized spin putting fresh flesh on the same narrative skeleton. In some respects, it’s more like a sequel or a companion piece, particularly given the movies involve two different Daltons, James and Elwood (almost like the Blues Brothers).

Bar Fight!

There are two things that make this remake work as well as it does: director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow) and star Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain).

They know what kind of movie they’re making and they slide in some smart humor (should “Road House” be two words or one?) as well as a wink to the original movie’s roadhouse, the Double Deuce, which in this version is now the name of a small diner in a tiny strip mall of three businesses.

There’s also a solid commitment to going full tilt, which comes front and center during a bar fight of mass absurdity. Ridiculously over-the-top mayhem breaks out — like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon — and in short order everybody’s fighting everybody. Through it all, one of the many bands to go behind the net and grace the roadhouse stage keeps on playing, even after everybody’s cleared out and taken it to the street. Unlike the original, which focused on Jeff Healey’s band as the “roadhouse house band,” this version gets some extra mileage out of featuring an assortment of different acts and musical styles throughout the movie.

The DNA is essentially the same, but now Elwood Dalton (Gyllenhaal) has an overhauled backstory involving a career as a UFC fighter who lets loose on a friend in a championship match. His takedown turns brutal, to the point Dalton earns an undesirable reputation and a notoriety that precedes him thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the internet.

In the aftermath, he’s borderline suicidal. Elwood’s greatest fear is of himself: he’s afraid of what will happen when he’s pushed too far.

Give Gyllenhaal credit; the guy’s pretty well cut (on the cusp of ripped) and is a credible opponent to Knox, played by Conor McGregor. Knox’s brash persona and bravura is a foil to Elwood’s remarkably calm, even-keeled demeanor.

Yeah, Conor McGregor, that notorious Irishman and UFC champ — who so often makes headlines for all the wrong reasons — chews the scenery and everything else in his path as he gets into one bare-knuckle brawl after another and also spends maybe a little too much time with bare buttocks. It’s a strange surprise to see his name pop up in the credits as “Introducing Conor McGregor.” The ubiquitous fighter’s made such a mark on the pop culture psyche, but sure enough this is his first credited feature film role.

Fight Club

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor

It’s a stretch to describe this remake as a thoughtful rumination on manhood today, but it is a surprisingly effective — borderline cathartic — release of male hormones in an increasingly emasculated world.

Mining some of the same territory to a completely different effect, David Fincher’s Fight Club (a flat-out flop in theatres back in 1999 that’s now viewed as a significant cinematic milestone) goes much deeper into the male psyche and societal expectations, but the new Road House puts some nuggets out there worth thinking about.

As with the original, the core story revolves around some crooked wheeling and dealing by local mobster-type heavies, this time with an eye on tearing down the titular roadhouse to make way for an extravagant resort for the ultra-wealthy in the Florida Keys.

Wrapped around that plot is an atmosphere of lawlessness that could be interpreted as a reflection of the mentality of society today with no-bail release and other policies that do more to harm than protect the general public. Of course, it doesn’t help a key player in this roadhouse conspiracy is the sheriff (Joaquim de Almeida), who’s also the father of this movie’s “Doc” character, Ellie (Daniela Melchior). Don’t read anything into it, but both de Almeida and Melchior were in the abominable muscle-fest called Fast X.

What does it mean to be a man today? Should walking tall and taking a stand in an environment of tied-hands justice be respected instead of derided or even feared?

Gyllenhaal’s Road House certainly doesn’t answer those questions. But at least it raises them for those so inclined.

Does it say anything about anything the original movie had a female co-writer (Hilary Henkin) and the movie boasted an awkward — but steamy — romance between Swayze’s ultra bad boy and Kelly Lynch’s doctor character, alongside a sub-theme of abusive relationships, while the new version lacks a female writer and also lacks that steamy sexuality (McGregor’s butt doesn’t count), which no doubt contributes to that lustrous 5-star Prime rating?

Nah. Probably not.

David Lee Henry, for better or worse, is a co-scribe on all three Road House flicks. At least this time, Road House has a healthy sense of humor about what it is.

A Taste for the Theatrical

In 2006 there was a direct-to-video sequel that continues to be best left completely ignored.

Now, given the state of theatrical exhibition in the post-pandemic world, major releases going direct to streaming is not uncommon, with features from A-listers like Martin Scorsese and Bradley Cooper helming streamer-backed movies given only limited theatrical runs.

Liman recently put up a stink about his Road House not getting a theatrical release, but that dust-up appears to itself have been a rather “theatrical” move to build publicity around the movie’s exclusive availability on Amazon Prime.

It’s for the best, since this movie wouldn’t be a blockbuster at the box office. It is, however, a no-brainer for a streaming night at home.