Review: New ‘Footloose’ Stumbles but Stays Upright

Like every other time Hollywood has deemed it necessary to remake a classic, it’s a perfectly natural reaction to bang your head against a wall as you cry “why?”  Then we take a deep breath and once more accept the ironic lack of creativity coming from a town that became famous for its creativity.

There’s little reason not to feel the same about a remake of “ Footloose,” until the words “directed by Craig Brewer” appear on the screen.  The man who gave us “ Hustle and Flow” and “ Black Snake Moan” is remaking Footloose?

Okay…we’re paying attention.

A major difference between this “ Footloose” and the 1984 original is the opening. The entire town and the Reverend Moore — John Lithgow’s former character, here played by Dennis Quaid — win our empathy straightaway when five teenagers are killed in a car accident following a party, one that involved lots of dancing and alcohol. One of the teens is the Rev. Moore’s son, who’s the older brother of Ariel, played by former “ Dancing with the Stars” pro Julianne Hough.  In beginning this way, Brewer’s script completely neuters the religious zealotry of the original, instead focusing on loss as the motivating factor behind the ban on dancing.

Three years after the accident, Ren arrives, the role played by Kevin Bacon 27 years ago, here played by newcomer Kenny Wormald.  Ren moves from his native Boston to the Southern town of Bomont to live with his aunt and uncle following the death of his mother following her lengthy battle with leukemia.  After resurrecting his uncle’s old Volkswagen Beetle and wiring his iPod into the speakers, he’s immediately pulled over for playing his music too loud. His rebellious nature also attracts the attention of Ariel, who has now become quite the wild child herself. The problem for Ren is Ariel’s boyfriend, Chuck, the town bully.  If you’ve seen the original you know the rest: Ren battles the bully and the town — the former for Ariel’s affections, the latter for the right to stage a dance.

The strength of this “ Footloose” is it feels organic and authentic — most of the time.  Inevitably, in a remake of a classic movie filled with cheesy moments, you’re going to get the forced homage to those cheesy moments.  That’s OK, though, because the remake exudes infectious charm.  You can feel director Craig Brewer’s passion for the project, through both his direction and his casting. Wormald and Hough aren’t quite ready for the Oscars yet but they’re pitch perfect for what they’re asked to do here.  However, it’s the supporting players that really help keep the film grounded, particularly Quaid, Miles Teller as Ren’s new pal Willard (Chris Penn in the original) and Ray McKinnon as Uncle Wes.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

– David Blaustein.

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