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Road House review: Jake Gyllenhaal is a worthy successor to Patrick Swayze in this bone-crunching remake

For action fans of a certain vintage, Road House is a seminal text. Patrick Swayze, with a feathered barnet that never looked more glorious, spin kicking his way through drunken thugs, greedy developers and into Kelly Lynch’s heart.

The action may have moved from Missouri to the Florida Keys for this surprise remake but there is just the right amount of shared DNA to make it enjoyable for enthusiasts of the original, while ladling on the action for those who had no idea about the greatness that came before.

There’s the same basic story of a ruthless developer attempting to take over a bar by sending in yobbos to smash it up and drive away custom, it has a procession of great musicians playing great tunes (often soundracking the brawls), and a whole lot of fighting. And what the film really gets right is finding a lead in Jake Gyllenhaal who carries the film just as the Swayze did.

At a time when many 43-year-olds are slowing down, Gyllenhaal has been ramping up the action recently from pulse raising thrillers Ambulance and The Guilty to Guy Ritchie war film The Covenant.

In this, he’s a former UFC fighter given the job of cleaning up the Road House by its owner Frankie (Jessica Williams). Whether through flashback in the ring (sorry UFC octagon), or particularly vigorous shirt-busting fights, our hero is given multiple chances to show off the sort of sculpted pecs that would make Michelangelo’s David blush.

Gyllenhaal’s Dalton has a dark past – he’s haunted by nightmares and toys with ending it all – but to the world he’s just a taciturn bloke with a goofy grin and an extraordinary knack of duffing up drunken bozos.

 (Laura Radford/Prime Video)
(Laura Radford/Prime Video)

Things get serious when the baddest of the bad guys arrives, in the form of actual ex-UFC star Conor McGregor. And what the former fighter may lack in acting finesse is totally blown away by a manic energy that absolutely dominates the screen whenever he’s on it.

Indeed his very first appearance on film – this is his feature debut – involves that ludicrous trademark ring-walk swagger, which makes it looks like he has a coathanger rammed under his shoulder blades... oh and he’s totally starkers (the BBFC describes it as “sexualised buttock nudity”). Soon after, he’s wearing someone else’s threads and everything is on fire.

That energy, which starts at 11, pretty much escalates throughout the film, and remains surprisingly enjoyable throughout.

Road House is well marshalled by veteran director Doug Liman, master of the light-hearted (Swingers) to the blood pumping action romp (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) to sometimes both together (Mr. and Mrs. Smith).

It is also produced by Joel Silver, whose action flicks range from Die Hard and Predator to Lethal Weapon and The Matrix as well as the original Road House, so there is real heritage there too.

The film nods heavily to its roots as a Western, and there’s a bit of romance between Dalton and doctor Ellie (Daniela Melchior) but ultimately, there’s not a whole lot more to it than a slick bone cracking, blood-spattering beat-em-up.

But in that the action delivers, as do the one liners, and it’s all set in a glorious, sunny location. That it’s set in Florida also means the welcome, and possibly first ever, introduction of the concept of Chekhov’s crocodile on film.

Gyllenhaal’s easy charm and quick fists ensure this remake is a smashing great time – even the most ardent of Swayze fans will be welcoming him into the road house.

Road House is available on Prime Video from March 21; primevideo.com