Friday, October 14, 2011
Movie review: Footloose
It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it sure does drive well.
Like it or not, remaking movies from the '80s is all the rage these days. Jaden Smith successfully brought The Karate Kid into the 21st century, even if he was doing kung fu, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is attempting to generate new scares with The Thing, and they're even redoing the ultimate in Cold War paranoia, Red Dawn, set for release in 2012. Many can't stand the idea that Hollywood is cashing in on nostalgia with what they assume to be inferior films.
The first clue that the new incarnation of Footloose won't be a blasphemous bastardization of the original comes in the very first scene, in which a group of teenagers party it up with Kenny Loggins' version of “Footloose” actually playing on the stereo, and not just on the movie soundtrack. The distinction is important, as writer/director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) and co-writer Dean Pitchford (who also wrote the original) have the set the new film in a world where the first film existed, even if it's never explicitly acknowledged. The scene, which often focuses on just dancing feet, also serves as the first of many times in which Brewer pays homage to the original without resorting to a shot-for-shot imitation.
And that's what makes the new Footloose such a great film – it simultaneously brings back the fun feelings that the first film engendered while allowing you to appreciate the subtle changes they've made. The story is much how you remember: Ren (dancer Kenny Wormald) moves from Boston to the small town of Bomont, Georgia to live with his aunt and uncle (Kim Dickens and Ray McKinnon). The new kid in town soon gains a slew of attention, for both positive and negative reasons, from local Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), Moore's rebellious daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough), and good ol' boy Willard (Miles Teller), who soon becomes his best friend.
The dance ban remains in effect, although the reasoning behind it – coming in the wake of the tragic deaths of five high schoolers after they left a party – holds a bit more heft than just the nebulous religious motives of the original. Ren, who has tragedy in his past, can both empathize with the town's grief while questioning whether the town's leaders have overstepped their bounds. You can create a checklist of memorable moments from the original – Ren teaching Willard how to dance, Ren playing a game of chicken with Ariel's boyfriend, Chuck – and you'd be able to mark them all off. Again, though, instead of coming across as a cheap copycats, each of these moments plays to the audience's nostalgia while also being twisted in new and clever ways.
Granted, the story still comes off as a bit cheesy at times – there's just no way to have a teenager angrily dancing alone in a warehouse be anything but laughable. And the rivalry between Ren and Chuck is severely undercooked, to the point that you wonder why they even included it in the first place. But that's also part of the film's charm – Brewer apparently wanted to pay tribute to the original, warts and all, and he succeeded.
Wormald gives a hit-and-miss performance as Ren. His Boston accent comes and goes, and he never quite sells Ren's anger that's simmering just beneath the surface. But he definitely can dance, which often helps to hide any acting deficiencies. Hough, a Dancing with the Stars veteran, comes across in a similar manner, although the scenes she has alongside Quaid, who gives his usual solid performance, elevate her a bit. It's McKinnon and Teller who steal the show, as they deliver the movie's best lines with flair and ease.
Skepticism about remaking a beloved film is only natural. But Brewer obviously has a ton of respect for the original and has crafted a film that both shows that love and his skills as a filmmaker. If you don't walk out the theater with a smile on your face, you're just not giving the remake its due.