Footloose: Film Review

Footloose Remake Still 2011
Paramount Pictures

Footloose Remake Still 2011

Newcomer Kenny Wormald impresses in this otherwise pedestrian remake of the 1984 hit.

Dennis Quaid, Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald star in a by-the-numbers remake of the '80s-era musical drama.

No disrespect to the estimable Dennis Quaid, but if this faithful, 27-years-on remake of Footloose were to have had any real point, the producers would have cast original star Kevin Bacon as the uptight preacher who bans dancing from his small town, the better to underscore the eternal truth of yesterday's rebels becoming today's conservatives.

The new film may also serve a purpose by showcasing a dynamic and attractive new actor, Kenny Wormald but, otherwise, this is a by-the-numbers affair that generates rote sympathy for hormonally-charged high schoolers busting out of their jeans to find a way to express themselves in a repressive small Southern town. Teen audience for whom the earlier version means nothing will likely embrace this reboot up to a point.

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Confronting the self-imposed challenge of how to refashion a 1980s hit into something relevant to a modern audience, Paramount, joined by one of the original producers, Craig Zadan, decided to change virtually nothing at all, including the main songs. Once again, it's the story of a city boy (from Boston this time) who arrives in a small town (in the South rather than the Midwest) to discover a group of teenagers living under the thumb of fearful elders who have partially succeeded in turning back the clock to 1953.

It's not just religious repression that drives the restrictions that go beyond drink and drugs to banning public dancing and placing a curfew on adolescents. Three years earlier, the preacher's son, no doubt under the influence, was driving when he and four classmates were killed in a collision returning from a late-night party. Henceforth, the town of Bomont has been playing it way safe under the spiritual guidance of the sanctimonious Rev. Moore (Quaid), whose wife (Andie MacDowell) stands by quietly but whose daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) cats around with bad boy racing driver Chuck (Patrick John Flueger).

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Although his haircut smacks of 1950s rockers, he's no doubt studied James Dean for attitudinal tips and his Boston accent rubs locals the wrong way (Wormald himself is actually from Massachusetts), Ren MacCormack, who's just lost his mother, arrives at the home of his uncle (Ray McKinnon) and aunt (Kim Dickens) intending to do good. But he represents a threat to many, from the police, who try to pin everything on him they can, to Chuck and the pastor, who separately suspect the stranger's intentions toward Ariel, when she's actually the aggressive one.

Astonished by the power of the puritans, Ren has the wherewithal to ask, “Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?” He also has formidable gymnastic and dancing skills, which he demonstrates at a brief, illicit gathering at a rural snack bar in front of a mixed gathering so thoroughly and easily integrated racially as to demonstrate that at least one important thing has changed in the South over the past half-century.

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With Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moon, director and co-writer Craig Brewer has emerged as a filmmaker with a distinct regional identification and his portrait of the small community is one of the stronger aspects to this Footloose. On the other hand, it's startling how badly the dance numbers and action sequences are staged, shot and cut. The visual clumsiness does not disguise that Wormald (a professional dancer since extreme youth), especially, but the others too, are very good dancers. But the compositions vary randomly between close-ups, awkward medium shots and general coverage that cuts together with no cumulative dynamic power. A climactic confrontation between Ren's pals and Chuck's crew come looking to disrupt the big dance is rendered silly by the totally unconvincing fighting and how easily the smaller guys dispatch the marauding rednecks.

The young cast members, all in their early-to-mid twenties, make things go down relatively easily. Wormald's appeal grows throughout the film, spurring curiosity as to what else this former backup dancer for Justin Timberlake might be capable of. In the former Chris Penn part of Ren's goofy new friend, Miles Teller scores both as comic relief and a reluctant dancer, while two-time Dancing With the Stars champ and country singer Julianne Hough reminds a bit of Jennifer Aniston with her hot bod and pleasant, slightly puffy face.

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Ultimately, in a world in which concerned, protection-minded parents have a lot more dire influences to worry about than dancing, the evil threat at the heart of Footloose seems like very small potatoes. On the other hand, the way Ren goes about remedying the situation—with intelligence, shrewd psychology, respect for the existing governmental and legal system and using his adversaries' weapon (in this case, scripture) to his own benefit—is admirable and dramatically effective, leaving the audience with the fanciful impression that young Massachusetts liberals and crusty old Southerners might actually be able to arrive at a meeting of the minds.