Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid
Directed by: Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”)
Written by: Dean Pitchford (1984’s “Footloose”) and Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”)
Director Craig Brewer’s remake of “Footloose” opens as the original did, thumping along with the rousing kinetic energy of Kenny Loggins’ title track from the ’80s guilty pleasure. Only instead of shots of dancing feet against a “Cosby Show” backdrop, Brewer uses it to kick off the film’s narrative with the first of many genuinely exciting dance sequences. As fun as the scene is, some cognitive dissonance sets in when you realize the characters are actually dancing to the song “Footloose” made famous by the movie “Footloose” that is being remade here. So what made the song famous in this universe? Does the original “Footloose” exist for them? Are these people aware they share the same names and life events with people in a fictional movie made 26 years ago?
The plot unfolds differently, however, taking the opportunity to play out a scene only referenced in the original film. Immediately after leaving the party, five teenagers, buzzed on liquor and dance, are killed in a head-on collision with a semi truck. One of the teens is the son of local preacher Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) who copes with his personal tragedy by leading an effort to save the children of Bomont, Georgia from themselves by setting out to criminalize loud music and public dancing.
Three years pass by the time Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) sets foot in town. Having just lost his mother to leukemia, Ren is taken in by his kindly aunt and uncle. Already on the town’s radar as a troublemaker after getting pulled over for playing his music too loud, Ren is introduced to Reverend Shaw and his daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) at Shaw’s church. It’s here that city boy Ren learns about the small town’s Draconian restrictions on his right to dance, igniting his rebellion.
If you’ve seen the original film, you know what happens from here. Somewhat surprisingly, Brewer sticks to the original screenplay nearly word for word, although changes have been made to accommodate the evolution of society. The casual drug use has been relegated to the “bad guys” and the existence of non-white people has been acknowledged, most notably in an electric reboot of the dance sequence at a diner set to hip-hop instead of ’80s cheese pop.
While welcomed in some respects, stripping away the insulating layer of cheese of the original exposes this updated film’s flaws. Hough oozes enough sex appeal in her dance sequences to derail a freight train, but falls flat when called upon to emote effectively. Wormald also captivates while in motion, but no one is going to forget Kevin Bacon’s take on the role. The same goes for Quaid’s Reverend Shaw, whose kinder take on the role pales in comparison to John Lithgow’s stern presence. Throw in odd plot distractions like Ren’s acrobatic punch-dancing in an abandoned warehouse and a school bus demolition derby (that replaces the original’s just-as-puzzling game of tractor chicken) and you begin to wish you had the guilty pleasure excuse to fall back on while watching.