Movie Review :: Footloose (2011) (PG-13)

I went into Footloose with very low expectations, since I knew the filmmakers had very little to work with. The original 1984 film, directed by Herbert Ross and starring Kevin Bacon, may have provided us with some classic ’80s songs but was woefully inadequate in all other fields, including plot, character, and theme. Although this new version tells virtually the exact same story, and although it copies specific scenes and lines of dialogue almost verbatim, I was surprised to find myself watching a stronger, better calculated film – more mature and a hell of a lot more convincing, with specific characters that are far better developed. I can only attribute its greater success to small but significant changes to Dean Pitchford’s original screenplay, such as the shuffling of lines and scenes; you’d be surprised how slight alterations can drastically affect the context of a scene.

This isn’t to suggest that it’s a perfect film. If anything, it suffers from many of the same problems that plagued the 1984 version, not the least of which is the plausibility of the underlying concept. But this time around, it’s obvious that more of an effort was made. In my original review, I complained that the filmmakers labored mightily under the delusion that the story should be taken seriously, despite the fact that it was innately ridiculous. I might have been too hasty in making that judgment call; although both versions are through and through escapist entertainment, certain aspects in this new film were tweaked to the point that I could take them more seriously, if only for the time I was sitting in the theater. I was able to see that it’s not about the underlying material, but about how it’s handled. The new script contributions by director Craig Brewster are proof of this.

In both films, a small town has imposed a law against music and public dancing as a result of a deadly car accident that claimed the lives of several teenagers. One of the changes in this film is that it actually opens with the crash; although contrived and melodramatic, actually seeing it happen somehow adds credibility. One this has been established, we go straight ahead with the story, which may not be identical to the 1984 film but will certainly be familiar to those who have seen it. We meet a teenager named Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), who lived in Boston with his mother until she died of leukemia. He now lives in Bomont, Georgia with his aunt and uncle, where the Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), for personal reasons I will not reveal, spearheaded the movement to ban underage drinking, “suggestive” music, and public dancing. The latter is allowed only in designated areas and under close supervision from the town elders.

Although Ren is generally mistrusted by the folks of Bomont for being a smart aleck outsider, he quickly befriends a high schooler named Willard (Miles Teller), who may be a bit geeky but is nowhere near as pathetic and annoying as he was when Christopher Penn played him. He also becomes acquainted with the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), who rebels against her father’s rules by dating an older redneck racecar driver named Chuck (Patrick John Flueger). Ren and Ariel’s relationship is no less contrived than it was in the original film, but because Ariel is better developed, I found that I could willingly suspend disbelief. In due time, Ren organizes a petition to have the anti-dancing law abolished, since he believes teenagers need to have their time before they grow up.

Certain scenes remain as laughably preposterous as they were in the 1984 film, including when a frustrated Ren lets off steam by dancing wildly, almost primitively, through an abandoned factory. It was not the dancing itself that was bad; it was the idea that he would vent in that particular way. I also had to suppress giggles during a montage sequence in which Ren teaches the clueless Willard how to dance; as in the original film, it’s set to the tune of Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Other scenes are not funny at all but are just as bad. In neither film did I appreciate the final fistfight between Ren and Chuck, which was not only unnecessary but also in bad taste. As for the Reverend, his miraculous turnaround is easier to accept, although his reasons are still a bit murky.

The soundtrack, which replaces the rock and new wave tunes with a fusion of country and hip hop, is nowhere near as memorable as that of the original film. The dancing, on the other hand, is well choreographed and wonderfully energetic. Wormald, who in real life has a background in dancing with acts such as Madonna and Justin Timberlake, is especially good. I will not go so far as to say that this movie should have been nothing more than an extended music video, as I suggested about the 1984 version; this time around, the plot and the characters were just compelling enough to make the whole experience worthwhile. Footloose is by no means a masterpiece, but as a teen fantasy about rebellion, romance, and dancing, it succeeds at being exactly what it wants to be. At this point, I’m starting to think we shouldn’t condemn remakes simply for being remakes.


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