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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 41
New Footloose can't keep the beat
Arts & Entertainment
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New Footloose can't keep the beat

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Footloose
Now Playing


Paramount Pictures brought the 1984 hit Footloose to Blu-ray a scant couple of weeks ago. I wasn't even 10 when it hit theatres, but like any other youngster worth their salt, I had seen it a few times by the time I was a senior in high school. In all honesty, I don't think I'd watched it since then until it showed up in my mailbox for review, and admittedly I was more than surprised how the Herbert Ross-directed sensation starring Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow held up so beautifully.

But you know what I noticed most about the film? No matter how cheesy it got, no matter how dated some of the clothing styles were and how inane some of the dialogue was, what it was talking about and the way its teenage rebel fighting against a stodgy adult machine acted towards authority remained rather timeless. There's a reason kids, much like they do with The Breakfast Club, still seek it out, the film speaking just as plainly and as honestly to them as it did to the teens and the 20-somethings who grew up in the 1980s.

All of this makes Paramount's remake, directed by Craig Brewer, all the more perplexing. It isn't that the man who gave us Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan has crafted a bad film; it's that the one he's delivered doesn't serve any practical purpose. While the action has shifted to Georgia, while the cast is an interracial mix, and while the dance styles have been updated, the movie itself doesn't do a darn thing of merit to distinguish itself from the original. If anything, Brewer and returning co-screenwriter Dean Pitchford are so reverential to the '84 version, so intent on paying homage at every turn, that the movie is practically a freeze-dried carbon copy, and as nicely as much of it plays, that doesn't make the picture as a whole close to worthwhile.

Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) has come to the small town of Bomont, but instead of fleeing with his mother from a bad marriage this time around the high-school senior has come to live with his Uncle Wes (Ray McKinnon) and his family after good old mom has died of leukemia. Other than that, things are pretty much as they were in the original: Public dancing by teens has been outlawed thanks to the death of a carload of notable kids, including the Reverend Shaw's (Dennis Quaid) eldest, in a tragic accident. Ren is an outsider who quickly makes friends with local yokel Willard (Miles Teller), is immediately pegged as a troublemaker by authorities, and then catches the eye of Shaw's free-spirited daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) and takes it upon himself to challenge the ordinance so he can stage a senior prom.

Thanks to the Southern setting, the filmmakers have made things much more racially diverse. At the same time, other than one noticeable moment set to an R&B beat and featuring its fair share of krumping, the majority of the music and the dancing is as country-fied (and as gentrified) as any I could have anticipated. Brewer doesn't dive into the ethnic differences of the community at all, barely registering their existence, making the fact that the local Presbyterian minister would have as much power as he does over law and order all the more perplexing.

On top of that, the director's two main additional changes (other than the now-deceased mother) are not good ones. For one thing, he opens the film with the car crash that got the Bomont town elders to spring into action. The second involves a climactic chat between Ren and Reverend Shaw. Both are decent enough scenes in and of themselves, Brewer being too good a writer/director to craft something wholly without worth. Yet neither serves any discernable purpose, both making far too literal moments that should have remained firmly rooted in an individual viewer's imagination. They kill momentum, weaken character development - especially as it concerns Ariel and Reverend Shaw - and zap emotion out of the picture, destabilizing the audience's sympathies towards the protagonists in a way the film is never able to recover from.

I may be making this sound worse than it is. Wormald is surprisingly good, Hough is nowhere near as terrible as I had been led to believe, and Teller remains a talent on the rise, his nimble and funny performance making it hard to fathom he's the same kid who stole scenes with powerful twinkle-eyed misery in Rabbit Hole. The dance sequences are mostly solid, the musical choices - an inspired mixture of new tunes and eclectically engineered covers from the original - are pretty great, and it's still hard not to smile when Ren and company win the day.

Sadly, at least as far as I am concerned, this new Footloose doesn't dance to a different enough beat to make it something I'd want to cut loose to. Watching isn't almost paradise, and the only hero I'm holding out for is a Hollywood executive with the courage to stand up and say no to remakes like these - now that's one boy I'd definitely want to hear it for.

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