October 14, 2011


I understand the allure of musicals, but the general idea behind a film with dancing as its selling point has always left me on the outside. You see, I can’t dance. At all. I can’t sing either, but singing isn’t nearly as popular as getting out on a dance floor and shaking it to some music. Yet that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the remake of the 1984 classic Footloose. While a lot of the themes and ideas may feel fit for the current MTV generation (do they even listen to music on that channel anymore?), Craig Brewer’s version is a rocking good time that will have you tapping your toes and nodding your head. Although the plot may not win any awards, it never treads down the path of utter ineptitude as much as it might in lesser hands. The premise was always hard to swallow, yet it is pulled off with a wink, a smile, and some actual sincerity. Hit the jump for my full review.

Some people are going to come into this movie with honest qualms. I had them myself. Early word had pegged the film as surprisingly good. The trailers I had seen gave me little hope, however, and when I first heard the positive reactions I laughed them off as overzealous fans of the original. Yet that positive word of mouth kept coming in, and by the time I sat down I was still doubtful but not dreading the worst.

Teenager Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) has grown up in the big city of Boston all of his life, but when his mother catches leukemia and passes away, he moves down to Bomont, Georgia to live with his aunt and uncle. Three years have passed since tragedy struck the small, close-knit town when teenagers were drinking, driving, and before that, dancing. Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) suffered personally when he lost his only son, and the town banned teenage drinking and most especially public dancing outside of school functions. They don’t even like loud music! As Ren slowly draws reciprocated feelings from the rebellious Reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), he sets out with his new friend Willard (Miles Teller) to change the way this small town thinks, and do some dancing on the side.

While the original film cast actors as standout dancers, Brewer has decided on a tact that was a true risk. You can have stunt performers all you want, but stunt actors will hardly work. Luckily his gamble payed off, as Wormald and Hough take hold of the film in the action and the drama. Both professional dancers, Wormald tries his best to be gritty and dangerous while Hough nails the role of rebel with attitude. As Ren, he is supposed to be the apparent badboy from the big city with a dangerous side (and a never-out-of-place hairdo to match), but he is so damn kind that he loses the power to flip that switch.

Then comes that triumphant moment where he releases aggression in a solo dance. While the simple idea of having a release of anger through dance seems silly, the fluid choreography by Step Up‘s Jamal Sims is stunning to behold. Then there is the fact that it is set to The White Stripes’ Catch Hell Blues. Jack White (a fan of the original) can make a scene like that infinitely more watchable. On the other side, Hough is just as capable of a dancer and yet shines in the dramatics. She plays the typical rebel, but she also has moments of pain and honesty that she often gets to play off of Quaid. Watch for a scene in a church as Quaid and Hough vocally spar. The moments are raw and hint at the future of Hough beyond the ballroom. She’s also incredibly alluring and fits right into the world of bare midriffs Brewer has created in this southern town.

Brewer wasn’t the obvious choice for this film, and perhaps that is why he felt so comfortable gambling himself. The film hews very close to the original, but there are additions and tweaks that are entertaining. Instead of a tractor chase, we get beatup school buses in a dangerous figure eight race. The town itself is also of tremendous importance to Brewer, and just like his previous effort, Black Snake Moan, he is able to create a rich southern community that feels alive.

There are some important things to note as well, being a remake. For many, the idea of teenagers running amok and drinking beer may seem off. The original was released in February of 1984, a full six months before the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed that raised the national minimum age to 21. The film does little to explain this, but has odd touches where it seems like the teenagers are able to easily procure alcohol inside and out of town, yet a dance scene in a club plays to music about getting a fake I.D. Speaking of the music, the famous theme is back again, of course, but also coupled with some other smart mainstays, like Quiet Riot’s Bang Your Head (Metal Health). As a whole, the music provides enough hip-hop, rock, and country to give anyone energy and the film the drive to get through some of the rougher dramatic elements that are often hit or miss.

While the film comes in just under two hours, I felt the film flew by. There may be more interest in the dances than the narrative, but all of it seems to find a careful balance that isn’t afraid to touch on some truths. Parents will always want to protect their children, and when parents are the one making the rules in a small town it isn’t that hard to imagine them going overboard. Throw in the religious aspect so often prevalent in southern culture and you have a town ripe for going way beyond.

A remake of Footloose could have been a shiny, easy popcorn flick. Even when you add in the extreme dance choreography that seems more flash than actual reality, Brewer manages to add grit to the film and give it some bite. Hough shines while the story manages to not make you slap your forehead. There are issues, and a lot of it stems from the original’s story, but Brewer has made a film that should find its place among a new generation that have yet to experience the original. For those coming back for more, there is plenty to cheer. A raucous adventure full of truths about the difficulty in being a parent when everything around you seems to move at lightspeed, Footloose is much more than just a film about rebellious dance-crazed teenagers. Hopefully the audience represents that.

Score: B


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