Why Footloose? Why now?
Such questions probably won’t come to mind if you’re one of the many already waiting with bated breath for Craig Brewer’s exuberant remake of 1984’s sublimely silly musical. As the major studio-release schedule more and more comes to resemble a recycling bin, it was perhaps only a matter of time before spiky-haired rebel Ren McCormick made his return to movie screens, wreaking havoc amongst the stuffy bigwigs of small-town Bomont by daring to dance in public.
It’s a strange feeling to find yourself nostalgic for crap. One of the most faithful remakes in recent memory, Footloose credits original screenwriter Dean Pitchford alongside Brewer, presumably because so much of the dialogue has been lifted verbatim. I doubt I have seen so much as a single frame of Footloose in at least 20 years, yet weirdly enough I knew exactly what these characters were going to say half a beat before the sentences came out of their mouths. (This was such a distressing experience, I actually called my kid sister during the drive home from the screening, asking exactly how many times we had watched that old tattered VHS tape of Footloose growing up. “We watched it every day,” she explained to me, “because you were 9 and I was 8 and it was the best movie ever.”)
So here we go again. The unfortunately named Kenny Wormald stars as Ren, a slick, recently orphaned wise-ass from Boston with a Marky Mark accent, landing in this podunk town to live with his aunt and uncle. A tragic drunken-driving accident after a prom three years ago has prompted these good folks to pass an ordinance prohibiting teenage dancing. The good reverend Shaw Moore—played by Dennis Quaid with his usual, slightly unsettling constipated grimace—watches over his flock with sanctimonious, extreme unction. But the preacher should be keeping a closer eye on his teenage daughter Ariel ( Dancing With The Stars’ Julianne Hough), who is something of a wild child, and in a bit of incongruous casting doesn’t look a day under 30 years old. (When she finally tells Daddy she’s not a virgin anymore, I half-expected her to add that she’s also divorced.)
It’s true that you can’t fight City Hall, but you can get your neighbors to sign a petition so you might be able to have a prom. There’s not really a lot at stake in Footloose , which even in its 1984 incarnation was basically a half-assed excuse to get from one self-contained MTV-friendly dance sequence to another.
Brewer, to his credit, understands dancing. This Southern-fried, possibly insane auteur was the man behind the pimp apologia Hustle & Flow, as well as the truly bizarre Black Snake Moan, in which Samuel L. Jackson’s blues musician chains nymphomaniac Christina Ricci to a radiator in order to keep her from banging the paperboy. Though it might cost him some street cred, Footloose represents a big step up for Brewer, simply by virtue of not being one of the most appallingly misogynistic movies ever made.
Set in present day, yet weirdly rife with popped collars and skinny ties, Brewer’s Footloose exists in an aesthetically pleasing timeless funk somewhere between the 1980s and today. Sure, these kids are krumping. But they’re also listening to Kenny Loggins and wearing denim-on-denim Canadian tuxedos. Brewer shows admirable loyalty to the original picture’s hit soundtrack with a selection of off-kilter covers—the most regrettable of which reveals that Jim Steinman’s “Holding Out For A Hero” lyrics sound even more hilariously absurd when performed as a Tori Amos-styled piano ballad. But at least he sticks with Deniece Williams’ original “Let’s Hear It For The Boy,” because why mess with perfection?
It is refreshing in this day and age to see dance sequences performed by people who don’t have two left feet. Brewer shoots them all in the widest possible shots, making full use of the cinemascope frame and doesn’t cut unless he absolutely has to, avoiding the mishmash of flash-and-dazzle editing that the original picture suffered from, which has since become an epidemic. These kids can really move.
Which is a good thing, because lord knows they weren’t hired for their acting skills. Wormald sounds like he’s seen The Departed way too many times, and Hough more often than not seems she’s auditioning for a school play. I like to think that Dennis Quaid’s maudlin, dewy-eyed performance sprung from a spirit of generosity, as if he saw how badly his co-stars were floundering and deliberately tanked in order to make them look better by comparison. Meanwhile, I’m still bummed that Brewer couldn’t talk Kevin Bacon into taking the preacher’s part.
The only bright spots are a disarming performance from Rabbit Hole’s Miles Teller, in the Christopher Penn wallflower role, and an unexpectedly tart turn from Deadwood’s Ray McKinnon as Ren’s nonconformist uncle.
Otherwise, it’s exactly what you would expect from a remake of Footloose. If you are 8 or 9 years old, it might be the best movie ever. But my Sunday shoes remain intact.
Director: Craig Brewer
Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough and Dennis Quaid
"The Lunchbox" is worth savoring