In 1984 Herbert Ross released the campy dance film Footloose about a boy from a large city who moves to a conservative small town and shakes things up when he organizes opposition the town’s ban on dancing. The film is memorable for little other than some catchy Kenny Loggins songs and some appropriately timed irony as it points out the hypocrisy in Reagan-era rules that are established for the greater good. There is no discernible climax to the film and it is so definitively 1980s that it does not age well.
Twenty seven years later director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) has decided to update Footloose for a modern audience. In doing so he stays so faithful to the original film’s plot that it seems to lack inspiration in numerous ways. The minor changes in story and filming style reflect the glibness of modern mainstream cinema and make one long for two decades ago when a filmmaker was unafraid to revel in camp. The characters are shallow, the plot is shaky, and the dance scenes are poorly edited making the Footloose remake a wholly unnecessary feature.
The paper-thin story is pretty easy to grasp: Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) moves from Boston, Massachusetts to Bomont, Alabama to live with his aunt and uncle after his mother dies from leukemia. He becomes quick friends with a schoolmate named Willard (Miles Teller) who informs Ren of the town’s strict laws – a curfew is enforced for all minors, music can only be played at a reasonable volume, and dancing is prohibited. Ren takes a liking to Reverend Moore’s (Dennis Quaid) daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), and unintentionally becomes the scapegoat of the town after getting caught up in her rebellious ways. Ren decides the best way to establish himself in the town and to make the world a better place is to oppose the city’s dance ban and organize the youth in protest.
The script is treated less like a modernized update of the original and more like a mad-lib, replacing the definitively 1980s references with more recent ones (cross out “The Police,” insert “David Banner”). Dean Pitchford gets writing credits for both the 1984 and 2011 versions, and I imagine that his original copy looks something like this:
INT. HIGH SCHOOL HALLWAY – DAY
REN passes WILLARD in the hallway. WILLARD is from [Insert region where people have identifiably silly accents.] They bump shoulders.
Hey man, watch where you are going!
Sorry, I didn’t see you.
[Insert topical insult indicating slightly lower intelligence.]
[Insert topical retort indicating inability for any real cruelty.]
You talk funny, where are you from?
I’m from [Insert big city where people have identifiably silly accents.]
The modern update also adds something that firmly establishes that it could only be a movie made in 2011 – explosions. It is understandable that the parents of Bomont are overprotective of their children because the kids in this town seem to be made of gasoline. This time we get to see the car accident that inspired all of the harsh rules in Bomont, making the film less about rebelling against the mores of a conservative town and more about proving that parents can trust their children.
The performances in the film are also quite thin as professional dancers Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough don’t get much deeper than their accents. They are not even given the chance to express themselves with their dancing. The choreography is far from Jerome Robbins and the dance scenes are edited so chaotically that we hardly get to enjoy them. Brewer needed to take a lesson from Fred Astaire and shoot the dancers in full frame, instead of with frequent cuts that depict bizarre angles. The scenes have the kinetic energy and the emotional depth of a deodorant commercial.
Dennis Quaid stands in for John Lithgow as the Reverend who leads the town in strict legislation. Quaid comes across with less fire and brimstone and more like a scowling softy. He is less likely to damn someone to Hell and more likely to sigh deeply and utter those soul crushing words: “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” Contrary to the original where it was difficult to believe that Lithgow had a gentle bone in his body, in the update it is difficult to believe that Quaid has a cruel one.
What may be most significant about the Footloose remake is the presence of the late Steve Jobs. During Ren’s solo dance scene everything in the new version is identical to the original with the exception of the way he gets his music. Instead of a cassette tape, we see Ren using a symbol of the 21st Century – an iPod with recognizable white ear buds.
Bottom Line: If you’re in the mood for nostalgia, watch the original Footloose from 1984. Otherwise just wait until your next wedding when you’ll undoubtedly be able to make up your own dance to Kenny Loggins’ catchy music.