Where Herbert Ross’s 1984 ‘Footloose’ was a story of teen rebellion, Craig Brewer’s 2011 remake is a story about loss and the crazy things people do when overwhelmed with mourning and unable to move on.
When Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) steps off a bus in Bomont, Georgia he finds a town grief stricken over the death of five high school seniors in a car accident after a night of partying, three years earlier. The city council, believing it could legislate being a teenager has banned dancing and loud music and even imposed a curfew. Apparently no one pointed out to them that underage drinking was already illegal and the kids were doing that anyway, so their new rules will also likely be ignored.
Where the 1984 Kevin Bacon’s McCormack was forced to piece together the story of why the town had banned dancing and normal teenage behavior, Brewer (Hustle and Flow) provides an opening scene of the car accident. This may have been done because the movie is a remake and everyone knows the story, or Brewer may have not wanted to raise the ire of religious conservatives in today’s nasty political climate. This is after all a dance movie.
The 2011 Ren McCormack is not a well read student athlete, angry that his mother would move him to a place where red necks would burn books that they had never read. Wormald’s McCormack is a boy who grew up in a far away land, called Boston, where it is conceivable that he would both learn how to fix cars and be on a gymnastics team. He’s has also just played caregiver to his dying mother and this experience provides the wisdom that he needs to pull the adults in Bomont out of their misplaced grief.
Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars) plays the beautiful Ariel, a rebellious preacher’s kid unable to escape the constant reminders of how her brother died. Hough works both the dance moves and fashions of the film. Hough’s character moves quickly from flirty vixen to damaged survivor and back again throughout the film until finally she’s allowed to reveal that she is just a teenager searching for normal.
Dennis Quaid manages to avoid the overwhelming righteousness that could easily come with his dual role of spiritual leader and city council member. His Reverend Shaw is so grief stricken that you wonder just when he’s going to blow and at whom. Too bad he can’t go out and dance and blow off some steam.
This is what Ren does, but his solo dance scene lacks the darkness and anger of that of the original film. The music just wasn’t angry enough. Which seems weird since the music of the 80’s was overall, annoyingly happy. The whole world seems so much more ticked off now than it was in 1984, so angrier music should have been an easy get. The rest of the dance scenes don’t disappoint. There’s some hip hop bumping and grinding in the drive in scene, and some serious country line dancing in the bar room scene. Both had the theatre crowd toe tapping and moving in their seats. There’s a notable remake of Holding out for a Hero, by Ella Mae Bowen. The best new song on the soundtrack is Fake I.D. by Big & Rich featuring Gretchen Wilson.
The city council scene also seems more down played than the original, but it still works. Although Ren quotes from the bible, he doesn’t do it to use the city elder’s words against them. Instead he shows them how to find comfort in a familiar place, move on from their grief, and acknowledge that it is time to dance.
And then there’s Willard. Actors in remakes always run the risk of merely doing an impersonation of the original actor who played the role. Miles Teller was the only actor who fell into this trap. But, why not? Christopher Penn’s Willard stole the show in 1984, and Teller does it again in 2011 with literally some of the same dance moves. This performance is a little gift for the parents and grandparents who will voluntarily accompany younger family members to this film. 80’s era buffs will also find delight when Ariel’s sidekick Rusty (Ziah Colon) cruises into the Bomont High parking lot in a 1984 Mustang and as Ren finds a Quiet Riot LP in the garage and quickly dials up a song on is iPod. But the most nostalgic moment of the film comes when Ariel and Ren appear dressed for their long awaited high school dance. Ariel didn’t need a team of make-up artists and hair stylists to look beautiful in her vintage dress. Ren, looking dashing in his skinny tie and jacket, knows that remembering to open the car door for a young lady will determine a whole lot about how the rest of the date goes.
Running time 1 hr 53 min. Rated PG-13