Footloose was always kind of a dumb movie. I’m not saying I and millions of other people like me didn’t love the film. I’m just saying it’s a corny construct, what with its twinkle-toed rock ’n’ roll rebel and endless music montages. But it succeeded thanks to one of its era’s most ecstatic pop soundtracks and the Reagan administration’s prevailing attitude of repression. Back in 1984, mere months before Tipper Gore founded the Parents Music Resource Center, it wasn’t at all far-fetched an idea that evil government and religious forces could band together to outlaw rock ’n’ roll. Back then, the plot to Styx’s 1983 concept album Killroy Was Here (a postapocalyptic world ruled by music-hating evangelical fascists) seemed unlikely ... but thrillingly plausible.
Since then, we’ve evolved as a nation. We’ve moved on from petty paranoias about religious fundamentalists tinkering with our music to world-class paranoias about religious fundamentalists crashing airplanes into the Pentagon. So, of all the ’80s films slated for rebooting, Footloose seemed like the most unlikely. But some lazy executive at Paramount saw it as “Glee” and “So You Think You Can Dance?” all rolled into one easy-to-market package. The craziest thing about the tuned-up 2011 version of Footloose, though, is how much damn fun it turns out to be.
It’s still a ridiculous film. Writer-director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) basically Xerox-copies Dean Pitchford’s original script (so much so that Pitchford gets co-writing credit) and tosses in a couple of minor tweaks. We’re in small-town Georgia this time around. Music and dancing have been outlawed courtesy of the local preacher (who’s also head of the city council) because a group of high-schoolers died in an auto accident driving home from a dance. (If they’d been driving home from the soda shop, I’m sure milkshakes would have been banned.) Into this simmering hotbed of pent-up teenage booty-shaking comes Ren McCormack (dancer Kenny Wormald from Center Stage: Turn It Up). Ren is a strong-but-silent Boston gymnast who arrives in town to live with his aunt and uncle following his mom’s untimely death.
Before long, he’s befriending a local rube (the very funny Miles Teller), chatting up the high school hottie (Julianne Hough from “Dancing With the Stars”) and butting heads with the hometown religious authority (embodied by Dennis Quaid this time around). Stand back, because this boy’s gotta dance, dance, dance!
For the most part, Footloose follows the original step for step. Brewer uses the exact same songs and the exact same choreography in several instances. A few of the tunes have been country-popped by the likes of Blake Shelton and Ella Mae Bowen, but the nostalgia factor is heavy. Hell, Ren even drives the same beat-up yellow Volkswagen. On the one hand, what works once works again. On the other hand, what’s the point?
Wormald can certainly dance and projects “surly” like a champ, but his charisma is severely limited. He acquits himself well enough—at least until a mid-film sequence that can best be described as a “dance hissy fit.” Hough—known primarily as Ryan Seacrest’s arm candy—is shockingly perfect as the bad girl daughter of the local preacher. She’s like Jennifer Aniston’s slutty little sister and gives the film much of its spark. Brewer and his cast at least look like they’re having fun here, and you soon get the feeling you’d be a grouch not to join in on all the boot-scootin’ silliness. The dancing feet, the tune-filled montages, the PG-rated teenage behavior: It’s as predictable as it is dated. But it’s all in good fun. A parking lot fistfight during the climactic prom sequence comes across as a lame attempt to inject some action into what is still an awfully anticlimactic ending, but that’s about the worst misstep the film has to offer.
Footloose doesn’t add anything to the original—other than Nascar, a spot of freak dancing and ample evidence that iPods are the new Walkmans. But there have been far worse remakes. This year alone. (Arthur, Straw Dogs, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, I’m looking at you. Fright Night, you get a pass.) Like a top-10 pop song done exceedingly well, Footloose is as lightweight as it is entertaining.