‘Road House’: All brawn, no brain and very little fun

(1.5 stars)

“Road House” was not a success when it first came out in 1989, but it became a huge hit on home video and beyond, not least because it was such a perfect artifact of its era: The mullets! The casual sexism! The Sam Elliott realness!

Not to mention the Patrick Swayze of it all. Capitalizing on “Dirty Dancing,” which made him an instant heartthrob, Swayze made “Road House” as a way to show off his preternatural physical gifts — this time fighting instead of lifting and catching Jennifer Grey in a steamy pas de deux. The result was a pageant of fight choreography, wooden romance and hypermasculine hokum that soon entered the annals of so-bad-it’s-good camp classics.

Remaking “Road House” is a supremely dumb idea, so it’s fitting that it has morphed into a self-consciously dumb movie. What’s less fitting is that it’s so surpassingly dull. Jake Gyllenhaal has assumed Swayze’s role of the legendary bar bouncer named Dalton, here a former UFC fighter who has fetched up in the Florida Keys to save the fate of a gutbucket dive called — cue knowing laughter — the Road House. The bar’s owner, Frankie (a spirited Jessica Williams), has hired Dalton to purge the riffraff, the better to realize her dream of making the Road House a respectable joint worthy of destination weddings and romantic getaways.

Directed by Doug Liman with slick production values and an ever-present wink, “Road House” has done away with the 1980s artifacts (no more cigarettes and nude dancing), accessorizing the requisite bar fights, bullies and beefcake with boats, skintight bar bands and breezy, brotastic humor. Billy Magnussen has the dubious honor of playing the psychotic villain of the piece, a spoiled brat who runs the fictional community of Glass Key with sadistic droit du seigneur; real-life mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor makes his feature film debut as a jolly, tattooed killer for hire who moves through the idiotic story delivering body blows and silly asides in a cheerful Irish brogue.

Gyllenhaal, sure to draw gasps when he first takes his shirt off, takes his punches with a goofy, good-natured grin worthy of Dalton’s peaceable nature. (His love interest is still a pretty doctor, this time played by Daniela Melchior.) In both iterations of “Road House,” the point is the fetishization of the male body; whereas the rules of cinema dictate that women be reduced to their component sexualized parts, men are ritualistically reduced to a bloody but somehow still desirable pulp.

As an exercise in B-movie exploitation, “Road House” is of a piece with other offerings this season, namely Ethan Coen’s “Drive-Away Dolls” and the Kristen Stewart vehicle “Love Lies Bleeding.” All of them hark back to a rowdy, rough-and-tumble time when movies were content to be vessels of visceral wish fulfillment and mindless, instantly disposable escapism. If “Road House” were more fun, if it didn’t trot out its fight sequences with such workmanlike regularity, it might have attained the kitschy greatness of its predecessor. But it doesn’t aspire to much more than mining the intellectual property catalogue for a quick-and-dirty cash grab. It scratches an itch, with just enough style to be barely respectable, leaving little more in its wake than a few black eyes and a bleary, well-that-happened shrug.

R. Available on Prime Video. Contains pervasive violence, profanity and some nudity. 121 minutes.


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