'Footloose': Funky Remake
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
I don't think I'm supposed to rip my shirt and gnash my teeth at the idea someone remade 1984's "Footloose," a story where a big-city kid comes to a small town where dancing is banned and helps the town heal their hearts and bust a move. The original is iconic -- a phrase that, these days, often means "vaguely remembered" -- in no small part thanks to the charisma of Kevin Bacon and a couple of pop songs that, while hardly classic, are at least infectiously memorable. But it's hardly great art, and it's hardly sacrosanct, and, at the very least, remake director Craig Brewer ("Hustle & Flow," "Black Snake Moan") adds just enough sweaty, soulful Southern funk that his "Footloose" has a little wiggle in its hips as it goes through the motions.
Now, city kid Ren is played by Kenny Wormald, who's moved from Boston to Bomont, Ga., after his mom's passing, taken in by Aunt Lulu (Kim Dickens, wasted in one scene) and uncle Wes (character actor Ray McKinnon in a sly, strong performance that adds a lot). But Ren's adaptation to rural Georgia is going to be hard, especially since the Bomont city fathers, after a post-dance accident that killed five teens three years ago, passed ordinances making dancing illegal except at city-sanctioned events, and a curfew and anti-noise ordinances as well. Spearheading the town's piety is the Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid, all flinty American rectitude), but the Rev. has a wild-child daughter of his own, Ariel (Julianne Hough), with her own capacity for acting out, and she has eyes for Ren.
The plot is simple, the subtext is text, so how does Brewer (adapting Dean Pitchford's original screenplay) fill time? Well, mostly with dance numbers, which are superb. There's a line-dancing sequence that plays as comedy since Ren's new pal, the lunkish, lovable Willard (Miles Teller, charismatic as hell and wildly different from his amazing turn in "Rabbit Hole"), doesn't know how to dance and has to learn, most notably to get a girl. Then it plays as an all-out strut-and-grind hoedown dance number to Big & Rich's song "Fake ID," with great performances (Hough's look of lust is something to behold) and great choreography at the same time. And all the dance numbers are that superbly executed -- even if Ren's "I'm so mad I have to go to an abandoned factory, play the White Stripes and DANCE!" montage looks a little silly -- with fun and sweat and music and youth popping off the screen.
I could complain about minor matters -- Wormald isn't Bacon, and he feels a little too stiff and lean; a little looseness would have helped him, and us, enjoy the film more. Hough has a well-conditioned set of muscles -- I cannot help but notice that, as time passes, teen idols are getting more and more aerobicized and less and less interesting -- but she pours a little vim and vigor into her good-girl-who-thinks-she's-bad performance. It would have been easy to remake this film with Quaid as a shouting, spit-flecked avatar of the far Right and the very wrong, with Ren as a paragon. Instead, the movie does something a lot more conversational and a lot more interesting.
And again, no one here is remaking "Lawrence of Arabia." Wormald does fine, with his thick "Bahstaaan" accent and his capacity for making you care about Ren's struggle. (And again, McKinnon is the epitome of a supporting actor here: stepping back, waiting for the perfect time to come out, then hitting a triple that gets Wormald home. Hopefully, he'll be recognized for his efforts.) Ultimately Quaid's preacher has to ask, "If we don't trust our children, how will our children be trustworthy?" before a big dance that not only a) lets Ren defeat the bad bullies bothering Ariel, but also b) unites the town in joy, even if it does take place over the county line and c) gives us a big ol' whoopin, hollerin' finale. The man starring in this "Footloose" isn't Kevin Bacon; the man singing "Footloose" isn't Kenny Loggins. But Brewer puts just enough smarts, sweat and swagger into his version of the dance steps making up this film that you can't help but move your feet and hum along.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com,
Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was
also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now
lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.