Remakes generally fall into two, distinct varieties: (1) unnecessary remakes, and (2) superfluous remakes. Footloose, the remake of the 1984 film that starred a 26-year-old Kevin Bacon as a toe-tapping, rebellious teenager, falls in to the latter category.
As an all-important aside, anyone who uses the word “classic” in reference to the original needs to revisit the definition of the word. Given the borderline absurd premise, it’s a minor miracle that, when all is said and danced, Footloose falls on the non-awful side of the awful/non-awful divide, a low standard, admittedly, but one perfectly in tune with the low expectations that should accompany practically any cash-grab remake, especially a remake of a musical drama moviegoers twenty-six-years ago found equal parts ridiculous and campy.
Footloose centers on Ren McCormack (back-up dancer-turned-actor Kenny Wormald), a 27 going on 18 high-schooler who relocates from Boston, Massachusetts to (fictional) Bomont, Georgia to spend his senior year with his uncle, Wes Warnicker (Ray McKinnon), and his uncle’s wife, Lulu (Kim Dickens). Abandoned by his father and recently left parentless by the loss of his mother to cancer, Ren’s the proverbial rebel without a pause. He has attitude, condescension, and “Yankee sarcasm” to spare. He quickly runs afoul of the local police officer for playing the music in his car too loudly, resulting in a summons and a wake-up call that he’s no longer living in the liberal Northeast, but in the conservative South, albeit one where racial tolerance and racial diversity are the near-utopian norm and not the exception.
On his first day of high school, Ren gets a new, best friend, Willard (Miles Teller), a walking, talking, non-dancing Southern stereotype, and locks eyes with the town bad girl, the 23 going on 18 Ariel Moore (Dancing With the Stars’ Julianne Hough). She already has a boyfriend, though, Chuck Cranston (Patrick John Flueger). Even worse, Ren learns that the town’s patriarchs, led by Ariel’s father, Rev. Shaw (Dennis Quaid), have banned underage dancing of a “lewd and lascivious” nature. For Ren, it’s the height of ridiculousness. Bomont’s other teenagers agree, meeting secretly when the adults aren’t around to dance lewdly and lasciviously. Heads butt, dancers dance, and talkers talk (and talk), ultimately leading to the closing dance inside a cleaned-up cotton mill to Kenny Loggins’ infectious title track (covered by country crooner Blake Shelton in case you’re wondering).
Writer-director Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan, Hustle & Flow) retains major and minor plot points (mostly) unchanged, making cosmetic changes as unneeded (e.g., a bus race instead of a tractor race), but adds a prologue involving a tragic accident that kills five teenagers, including Ariel’s brother, as motivation, however flawed and ill-conceived, for the town council’s draconian clampdown on teen-related activities, innocuous and non-innocuous alike. That motivation helps to humanize Shaw, but it also effectively undermines any critique of religious conservatism and the role, if any, it should have in lawmaking and governance at the local level (where it tends to be the most pernicious). It also weakens the central conflict supposedly at the center of Footloose.
Moviegoers who flock (assuming “flocking” actually occurs) to Footloose this weekend will care little for what message or themes Brewer wants to impart or imprint on their subconscious, but on whether Footloose delivers on the simple, basic promise (and premise): twenty-somethings pretending to be teens dancing to new and old songs. Brewer obviously picked Wormald and Hough for their dancing prowess and not their semblance to teens or, in general, acting talent. Wormald fails to impress when he’s asked to engage in heavy emotional lifting, Hough significantly better. Miles Teller steals every scene he’s in and not only because he’s playing a broad, comedy-friendly character. Teller showed remarkable range and depth in last year’s underseen, underappreciated Rabbit Hole. With Footloose he shows he can handle comedy and, post-montage, country-western dance moves to Jana Kramer’s cover of Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For the Boy,” of course.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.