A film review by Craig J. Koban October 26, 2011



2011, PG-13, 113 mins.


Ren: Kenny Wormald / Ariel: Julianne Hough / Rev. Moore: Dennis Quaid / Vi: Andie MacDowell / Chuck Patrick: John Flueger / Willard: Miles Teller / Wes: Ray McKinnon

Directed by Craig Brewer / Written by Dean Pitchford and Brewer, based on Pitchford’s 1984 screenplay


That’s most likely the one word that comes to mind when thinking about a remake to the 1984 song and dance cult classic FOOTLOOSE.  All the fans of the original film know the film beat for beat: it cast a then relatively unknown Kevin Bacon as a liberal minded and rebellious Chicago teen that moves to a small town that – gasp! – has recently banned dancing and rock music.  FOOTLOOSE was pure cheese through and through, but it was a breakthrough role for the young Bacon and the film’s memorably spirited soundtrack – featuring hit singles by Bonnie Tyler, Sammy Hagar, Moving Pictures, and, of course, Kenny Loggins – is an integral part of 80’s pop culture lore. 

Remaking, re-imagining, or re-inventing FOOTLOOSE for mass consumption may be considered sacrilege to many of the original’s die hard devotees.  I’m sure that when reports leaked that a new film was being issued many of the most loyal FOOTLOOSE fanatics probably wanted to drive to the nearest abandoned mill, guzzle on booze and cigarettes, and angrily dance their frustrations away.  I must admit that I am not one of the obsessive aficionados when it comes to the sanctity of the original (it was a bubbly, toe-tappingly fun diversion, but hardly a revolutionary picture), which perhaps makes me more open-mined when it comes to FOOTLOOSE-redux.  While the new entry certainly harnesses the original’s high cornball quotient to proper effect, I was surprised not only by how sincerely respectful it is to the original, but also with how well it makes minor, but noteworthy altercations to its antecedent to set itself apart as an original work.  

Isn’t that what all good remakes aspire to? 

The story of the new film will, no doubt, be imminently familiar to fans of the ’84 entry, but there are still some noticeable changes.  The original was set in Bomont, Utah whereas the new one is set in Bomont, Georgia.  The new kid in town, Ren, is now a motherless child that lost his mother to leukemia.  There are re-recordings of four of the original film’s most cherished songs (including Footloose, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy, and Holding Out For A Hero).  There’s a new prologue that shows a fatal car accident and death of one key character’s brother and how that has a devastating impact on the community (which gives a more palpable explanation for the town’s dance ban).  There’s still a Volkswagen Beetle, only this time with a very novel i-Pod player modification. There’s no game of chicken involving tractors this go around, as we now get a standoff between two characters in a demolition derby bus race (yeah...weird).  Yup, there’s still an angry dance by Ren, but this time it seems much more…I dunno…gritty, raw, and oddly credible. 

The setup of the film is still largely the same: We meet Ren (Kenny Wormald, former backup dancer to Justin Timberlake), who is an obligatory Big City Boy forced to slum it in a small rural community after tragedy has struck.  His mother has recently died and he decides to move to Bomont, Georgia to spend his senior year at Bomont High.  As Ren’s aunt and uncle try to acclimatize him to his new surroundings, Ren learns some uneasy truths about this quant town: Firstly, Bomont is essentially run by its religious leaders, and one in particular, Rev. Moore (Dennis Quaid) has so much influence in city council that he was largely responsible for spearheading legislation to ban loud music, drinking, and dancing for minors in Bomont after his own son was killed in a car crash (during which all three elements were at play).  The new film does a much better job of relaying the sting that the Pastor’s son’s death has had on the community and how it predicated the legislation.   



Of course, the new laws do not sit well with Ren, seeing as he's a free-spirited and wildly talented dancer and a lad that has a habit of flipping the bird to authority.  He finds himself getting into more trouble when he develops an attraction to the Pastor’s own daughter, Ariel (DANCING WITH THE STAR’s luscious and leggy blue-eyed beauty, Julianne Hough) who – as we all know with run-of-the-mill preacher’s daughter characters – must be one that is a cauldron of sexually repressed energy who all but ensures that she'll not obey her daddy’s evangelical wishes.  When she locks eyes with Ren sparks most certainly fly, and within no time both her and a loyal contingent of their friends hatch a plan to jumpstart the first high school prom in years, with or without the approval of the town’s pastor or city council. 

All of the perfunctory character types and relationships have been lovingly – if not a bit slavishly – adapted for this new FOOTLOOSE.  Kenny Wormald certainly does not have Bacon’s loose cannon tenacity and unpredictable edge, but he certainly makes up for it by being a substantially better natural dancing talent than Bacon (who did, to be fair, use doubles at times).  Wormald may not have performance range, but he’s a dazzlingly dynamic physical talent.  Hough, who certainly exudes raw carnal appeal in her bad-girl/preacher’s daughter role, compliments Wormald nicely; she too has extraordinary dancing capacity and certainly hints at future star appeal.  Two other performances that I really liked were Quaid, who takes over for the role dominated before by John Lithgow and makes his man of God feel more grounded and emotionally wounded (he has a great introductory scene).  Lastly, there’s RABBIT HOLE’s Miles Teller playing the sidekick role of Willard that was played in the original by the late Chris Penn; Teller makes this loveable and instantly likeable red neck teen refreshingly his own in a scene-stealing performance.   

The new FOOTLOOSE was directed by the very talented Craig Brewer, who made two of the better films of their respective years in BLACK SNAKE MOAN and HUSTLE AND FLOW.  One thing that he agreeably imparts on this remake is a bit more gritty sexual energy, a gnarly backwoods personality, and a much more racially eclectic vibe (the original was largely a whites-only affair).  Where he fails, I think, is that he does not really modify the original’s basic story (other than to focus more on the tragedy that took the preacher’s son, which always ominously looms in the background).  I would have appreciated Brewer perhaps modernizing the story at bit more.  To be honest, the central idea of a deeply conservative minded town banning rock and roll and dancing both in 1984 and now seems kind of unbelievable; it may have been a bit eye rolling decades earlier, but now it seems borderline ridiculous. 

Yet, I appreciated how much Brewer allows for this newer FOOTLOOSE to cut loose (sorry, pun intended) from its original in surprisingly efficient ways.  The film will not likely offend the sensibilities of the original’s followers and will easily win over newer audiences that are clamoring for a youth-centric musical with a vibrant swagger, propulsive energy, and appealing performers.  Brewer’s take has some really pleasing revisions (I quite liked the cute karaoke update of Let’s Hear It For The Boys playing as Ren teaches the decidedly lead-footed Willard some soulful dance moves).  Some changes are, for lack of a better phrase, utterly lame (a slow version of Holding Out For A Hero almost inspires unintentional mocking laughter).  Yet, like its innovator, FOOTLOOSE is harmless, unobjectionable, and disposably enjoyable from its giddy dancing feet opening montage to its final joyously euphoric dance climax.  Brewer’s update does not have high ambitions, but it’s respectful of its predecessor and changes it in just enough discrete ways to set itself apart as a modestly winning audience pleaser.

Thankfully, I did not angry dance all the way home after seeing it. 

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