Review: Jake Gyllenhaal's ‘Road House’ adaptation is a powerful Florida romp    

Bouncer Elwood P. Dalton is classy. “Before we start, do you have insurance?” he asks five tough guys outside a bar who want to smash his skull. After brutally assaulting them, he generously drives them to the hospital. In “Road House,” a remake of the pulpy 1989 action film starring Patrick Swayze, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dalton, a former UFC fighter with a dark background.

You sure you thought this through?’ An assailant who plunges a knife into Dalton's abdomen is asked. Is it wise for the filmmakers to remake an old film? The answer is shocking: yes. Gyllenhaal plays an unusual loner with tremendous fighting skills who makes a career in illegal fights and lives in his van, plagued by what he did to a friend in the octagon. His open wounds are treated with alcohol and electrical tape, but he also utilizes wheelie baggage. You anticipated a large black duffel, right? Baggage contents? Death want, obviously.

A roadhouse bar owner (the always brilliantly tart Jessica Williams) lures him to the Florida Keys because she wants a good bouncer to defend her from nightly violence. He's promised $5,000 a week to deter sleeveless jean jacket thugs from smashing bottles, flipping tables, and breaking pool cues. (This film will please the Florida tourism board).

A bartender says, “I’m hoping you’re different,” and he is. Dalton moves to Glass Key, dates a cute girl, befriends the decent people, and lives on a houseboat, like all broken loners do. Zen-like, he instructs the other bouncers how to do their jobs and finds good reasons to take off his shirt.

He then discovers a plot straight from “Scooby-Doo.” The local rich guy and unscrupulous cops need the land under the bar to build a luxury resort. Organized crime wants to close the bar. “Zoinks!” In his acting debut as crazed gun-for-hire Knox, former UFC fighter Conor McGregor electrifies “Road House” immediately. He casually walks down a European town bare nude save for boots, possibly the best film beginning.

Dalton and Knox will confront one other and have a grudging respect. Both are badly sliced and screwed up. Something's wrong with you. Me too, says the Irish muscular giant. This chaos agent picks up a golf club and says he wants to go “clubbing.”

The movie gets strange near the conclusion when it leaves the roadhouse, like a night of excessive drinking. A message is sent with speed boats, explosions, and arson. An outsized, venomous crocodile is abandoned.

Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry use cliches like dead mothers, double-crosses, and odd offspring to make heroes seem paternal. A dangerous, unstable McGregor is a gift. As the rich boy bully, Billy Magnussen is charmingly preppy. He's so cruel he throws his phone into the ocean in frustration and asks an underling to get it.

Doug Liman of “The Bourne Identity” seems to be having fun, lingering on the beefsteak and mixing in Rockin' Dopsie Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters' honky tonk music. POV camera work and booming bottle shattering stunts make the action scenes amazing. It understands it's ridiculous but has fun.

Liman is furious the movie is streaming instead of coming to theaters for that reason. But he could fix that. He may recruit an unstable but kind former fighter who lives in his car. That person can fix things for a few thousand.

Road House, an Amazon MGM Studios film streaming on Prime Video starting March 21, is classified R for “nudity, violence, alcohol use and foul language.” Runtime: 114 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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