Published Oct 14, 2011Footloose (the 1984 juggernaut that launched the careers of then unknowns Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Penn, John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest) is one of those classic '80s films that goes beyond cult status. Along with Flashdance, The Breakfast Club and Animal House, to remake such an era-specific gem firmly nestled in the annals of nostalgia is precarious at best and blasphemous at worst.
Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) has attempted to modernize the script to bring our heroes Ren McCormack and Ariel Moore into the 21st century, but somewhere in the editing process all the heart and potency of the original, which lifted it beyond a formulaic coming-of-age musical, were wiped clean. Brewer does a spectacular job maintaining the fervent, sexy dance sequences and throbbing soundtrack we loved in Herbert Ross's original, but removes all character development and, frankly, much of the stakes and struggle, rendering the end product nothing but glitzy fluff.
There are many visual and audio cues, and throwbacks for nostalgia's sake: the opening sequence of the dancing feet, the near-identical costumes scene-for-scene and even some of the original songs (Kenny Loggins' eponymous tune, Deniece William's "Let's Hear it for the Boy" and Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head"). But for what it overcompensates for in spectacle it detracts from narratively.
Ren McCormack stood as a poster boy for misunderstood youth, a Chicago boy who's bullied, beaten, teased and shunned by the conservative Bomont townsfolk just because he had balls and passion. However, Kenny Wormald's (Centre Stage) interpretation of Ren turns him into an instantly accepted Bostonian whose only real hurdle to changing the dancing laws is the old religious parents and townsfolk. Parents just don't understand, naturally.
There's no Slaughterhouse Five-induced awkwardness, no kicked-off-the-gymnast-team injustice and no bricks hurled through bedroom windows. Likewise, Ariel Moore, as we remember her, was a tough, headstrong fighter and survivor loaded with bravado, but also tenderness. Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars) looks the part (thanks to Proactiv, no doubt), but transforms our fierce, feisty Ariel into a flirty, flighty piece of flotsam that's really great at shaking her hips, but has no clue what the lines she's reciting are supposed to convey. She looks lost throughout most of the film, as if she's reciting in iambic pentameter.
And while our dear Reverend Moore (originally played by John Lithgow) was a tough competitor, he was also sensitive, troubled and understanding. Dennis Quaid as Rev. Moore isn't given much to work with, as most of his character developing scenes have been removed, along with Andie McDowell's (as Vi Moore), making it hard to care about their dilemma as parents and pillars of the community.
Certain characters from the original, like Uncle Wes, Ariel's sidekick Rusty and even our beloved Willard (played by Miles Teller, last seen in Rabbit Hole ), have been given complete 180s, making them almost unrecognizable. We loved Willard for his proud stoicism even when we knew deep down he was a teddy bear. Teller turns him into a mere buffoon, a device for laughs and very little pathos.
Kevin Bacon was reportedly given the script, but turned down playing any role after reading it. That, coupled with the fact that lightweights Zac Efron and Chace Crawford also withdrew from the project due to "creative differences," should have been enough indication that this remake was just a bad idea. When Zac Efron actually makes a smart career move, that really warrants careful consideration.
Don't waste your money. Rent the original and heave a sigh of relief. (Paramount)