Dance dance evolution
With Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, Miles Teller; Running Time: 113 minutes; Rated PG-13 (for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language); Written by Dean Pitchford and Craig Brewer; Directed by Craig Brewer.
A remake of FOOTLOOSE? Isn’t that some kind of sacrilege? How can they dare to think they can redo a classic? But hold on – the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie may have been a teen hit that holds a special place in the hearts of many, but seriously, it’s no classic. And does anyone really want to make the argument that music and dance haven’t changed over the last 27 years?
This new version pretty much follows the formula of the original film, and even revives some of the hits from the original soundtrack – the title song and “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” – but it filters it all through a contemporary sensibility. Whether you prefer the original or the remake will be a matter of taste.
The story (which was also adapted into a Broadway musical) is standard. City kid Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), having just lost his mother, arrives in a small Southern town to live with relatives. As we see in a prologue, a tragedy in which several teens were killed in a car accident following a dance has led the town fathers to ban dancing in the town limits. Given the political extremism that passes for rational thought in 2011, there was an opportunity to draw connections to the real world, but the script by Dean Pitchford and director Craig Brewer studiously avoid that. This town exists in a vacuum.
Ren has trouble fitting in, but attracts the attention of Ariel (Julianne Hough), the beautiful but wild girl. Her older brother was killed in the car accident several years before and her father, Rev. Moore (Dennis Quaid), is one of the townsfolk who led the way for the dance ban. Ren also makes friends with local boy Willard (Miles Teller), whose dance “lesson” may be one of the highlights of the film.
You know from the start where this is all going. Ren will challenge the town bullies – the adults who enforce the dance ban and won’t listen to reason as well as the more adolescent kind – before Ren, Ariel, Willard and all the good kids have an exuberant dance at the finale. This should not be any surprise even to those who never saw the original. It’s the only place for the film to go.
Along the way there are some fun dance sequences, both an “illegal” dance at the local drive-in and a trip into the big city to go clubbing, and the young cast is pleasant if not especially memorable. Local boy Wormald, a Boston-area dancer getting a shot at a leading role, has the charm to pull off the performance. It remains to be seen if there’s any further depth to his acting. Much the same can be said about country singer and dancer Hough. Quaid, on the other hand, avoids making his preacher the villain of the piece with a nicely nuanced performance. There are times when the reverend is a jerk, and there are times when he is a father torn up over what has become of his family. Unfortunately, Andie McDowell has much less to do as his wife.
“Footloose” pretty much delivers the goods. Younger viewers will respond to its message that youth needs to be free to dance without having to think whether they need to be free to do much of anything else. As with the original, it’s not a metaphor; it’s a teen dance movie.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.