Here we have yet another remake of a supposed “classic.” While I was never a huge fan of the 1984 Kevin Bacon Footloose, it still seemed odd that producers would choose to remake a film with such an outlandish premise. Among teen films of the 1980s, a town that bans dancing is second only to two nerds using a computer to create the perfect woman (incidentally, Weird Science is the only John Hughes movie that should ever be remade). But then I remembered there are three movies to date in the Step Up franchise, and Dancing With the Stars is one of the highest rated shows on television. And suddenly, the decision made that day in a Hollywood corporate boardroom makes complete sense.
If you aren’t familiar with the premise, the film follows teen Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald), now from Boston (to match Wormald’s authentic accent presumably), who moves to the fictional southern town of Bomont. The town has outlawed dancing in the wake of a tragedy where the local minister’s son was killed in a car accident on his way home from a party. Ren soon meets Ariel (Dancing With the Stars’ Julianne Hough), the wild child minister’s daughter, along with local goof Willard (Miles Teller). Eventually they resolve to get the town to lift the ban on dancing, or at least circumvent it.
Anyway, in my opinion this version of Footloose is much less boring than the original. While the film is still a little long, there is much more emphasis on the dancing. No one watches the 1984 version for the dancing. They watch it for Kevin Bacon. This film is the exact opposite in that regard. There are dance scenes a plenty, from modern R&B and country line dancing, to warehouse interpretive, the choreography is pretty great. In fact, whenever the characters weren’t dancing, I was hoping they would start.
The dance sequences are easily the highlight of the film, because the acting is fairly subpar. Wormald gets the job done as the rebel outsider with a cause, and Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell are fine as the minister and his wife, but the movie grinds to a halt every time Julianne Hough attempts to emote on screen. It becomes evident that Ariel is a poorly written, wholly unlikeable, melodramatic mess of a character. I can forgive Hough though, because it is obvious that she (along with Wormald), was cast for her talents as a dancer and she shines when choreography is involved. The sole acting performance I really enjoyed was Miles Teller. As Willard, he brings a lighthearted comic energy to a film that takes itself much too seriously given the subject matter.
Overall, Footloose circa 2011 will appeal to teens and perhaps fans of the first incarnation feeling nostalgic. It reminds me of a Broadway musical revival (there was a stage musical version of Footloose in 1999) where the roles are the same, the take is tweaked, a more diverse cast is added, and while it may not capture the alleged “magic” of the original, it’s a valiant attempt.
Footloose opens in Philadelphia-area theaters today.