Of the top twenty-five highest grossing movies domestically this year, only six of them were original stories: not sequels, prequels, spin-offs, or based on existing property. Hollywood appears to be running out of original ideas faster than Michael Bay can blow up a high-rise, and executives are looking to remake anything and everything possible in order to make a quick buck. However, if there was one remake, amid the sea of seemingly unnecessary ones, that actually seemed to make sense this year, it was Footloose. It was the right time to tackle that story again. After all, the most popular shows on television today all revolve around singing or dancing, whether they are reality programs (American Idol, Dancing With the Stars) or scripted shows (Glee, Smash). The world is apparently infatuated with watching people more coordinated and more attractive than them tear up a dance floor. It makes sense that Hollywood took notice and wanted to capitalize on that, not by summoning up an original idea, but by returning to a concept that had been such a hit before.
In the original 1984 film by Herbert Ross, Kevin Bacon starred as Ren McCormack, a Boston rabble-rouser who comes to stay with his cousins in a small Southern town after his mother dies. Upon arriving, he is shocked to learn that after a horrific car crash that killed five beloved high school seniors, dancing and rock and roll music are outlawed. Minors have enforced curfews and incredibly strict rules to follow to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. Naturally, Ren refuses to believe that the rock music is to blame for such reckless behavior and strives to overturn this law. He also woos a lovely reverend’s daughter, played by Lori Singer. The cast featured John Lithgow as the uptight preacher and Dianne Wiest as his wife in an ensemble that also included a young Sarah Jessica Parker. It was an instant hit thanks to the charisma of Bacon and the nonstop hits provided by the soundtrack
The new film’s cast isn’t nearly as starry. The bright young things stepping in for Bacon and Singer are dancers first and actors second. This means that the big dance numbers are very impressive, well choreographed, and free of obvious stunt doubles. Kenny Wormald, as Ren, is a rather good performer for someone whose main experience comes from being the pretty boy in the background of music videos. Both his looks and his acting chops are more Zac Efron than Kevin Bacon, but that’s fitting considering that this Footloose is for the High School Musical generation. Julianne Hough is a surprisingly perfect choice for the lead female role, rebellious teacher’s daughter Ariel. Well, unsurprising in some ways, as one would expect that an alum of Dancing With the Stars would know how to hoof it. However, she runs the emotional gamut as Ariel, first putting herself forward as a rough and tumble, devil-may-care rebel, before finally letting that façade break down and to reveal her far more vulnerable true self. A climactic confrontation between her strict preacher father (Dennis Quaid), and her far more understanding mother (the underused Andie MacDowell), is one of the highlights of the film. It allows Hough to showcase acting chops that many naysayers, myself included, probably doubted that she had. Hough and Wormald are also undeniably attractive in a realistic, kids-next-door fashion and have unbelievable chemistry together, which combined with their dancing skills, makes it easy to gloss over any weaknesses their performances might have had.
Director Craig Brewer, whose previous efforts include Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan, clearly knows his way around the Deep South. He treats his self-described rednecks with the respect due to what amounts to a specific culture, not as caricatures to be mocked. The film deals with sex, drugs, and domestic violence in surprising blunt ways for a PG-13 film, but such material lends realism to a premise that has been unbelievable since 1984. Brewer co-wrote the screenplay with the writer of the 1984 Footloose, Dean Pitchford, so it obviously doesn’t veer too far off the path beaten by the original. The film references the country’s current recession, cementing it in the twenty-first century and making the tale even more relatable to the new generation of teenagers it is targeting. The story does get rather heavy-handed at times, but no one ever accused a movie about winning the right to dance of being subtle. The soundtrack features not only an original score by Deborah Lurie but also instrumental and re-recorded versions of many of the classic tracks from the original, such as “Holding Out for a Hero” and of course, “Footloose.” The final dance number to that song is so energetic and joyful that even the most cynical audience member can’t help but smile.
Overall, Footloose is a pleasant surprise, and a standout amidst a sea of remakes and dance films. If you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie that will attack you and infect you with its can-do attitude, this one’s for you.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
Footloose has been released as a two-disc DVD and Blu-ray combo pack, with the bulk of the special features included on the Blu-ray disc. These include featurettes chronicling the casting as “reimagining process.” There’s also a dancing tutorial with the stars, deleted scenes, and a music video of the song “Fake ID” by Big & Rich, featured as one of the dance numbers in the film. In addition, there is a third version of the movie included as a digital download, if you feel the need to take the movie along with you and get footloose wherever you go.
"Footloose" is on sale March 6, 2012 and is rated PG13. Dance, Drama. Directed by Craig Brewer. Written by Dean Pitchford, Craig Brewer. Starring Dennis Quaid, Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough.