Director Craig Brewer doesn’t so much remake 1984’s Footloose as tweak it. At times, it feels almost identical, with small changes that are as likely to be commentary as updates. But the most important thing this version has in common with the original is that the talking parts are too long and the dancing parts are too short. Like the first one, it is not a good movie but it is a lot of fun.
Kenny Wormald, a back-up dancer for Justin Timberlake, takes over the Kevin Bacon role as Ren, a boy from the city (Boston) who moves to a small town in Georgia to live with his aunt and uncle (in this version, the single mother is dispensed with). “Dance With the Stars” favorite Julianne Hough plays the Lori Singer role as Ariel, the daughter of the local preacher (Dennis Quaid) who led the town to impose a curfew and prohibit dancing for teenagers after a car accident that killed five teens on their way home from a party. His son, Ariel’s other brother, was the driver. Five years later, grief and guilt still hang over the town, and the high school students who walk by the memorial display for the kids who were killed every day feel that the restrictions are pointless. The most disturbing change from the original is the decision to begin the film by showing us a group of teens dancing and letting us realize to our horror that these are not the kids we will be watching for the rest of the movie; these are the ones who are about to die. It is intended to give some weight to the otherwise dubious premise but it does not. It just starts things off like another episode of “Final Destination.”
Once that is over with, we get on to the themes of the movie. Ariel has to learn that her risky behavior is not just rebellious; it is self-destructive. And Ren and his new friends have to find a way to make a difference.
But let’s be honest. It’s really just a lot of opportunities to dance. Wormald is not the actor Bacon is, not even close, but he is a sensational dancer with an electrifyingly athletic style (in both versions, part of Ren’s backstory is his experience as a gymnast). Hough is a beautifully supple dancer who makes her joy in movement a part of every step, and she has dazzling aqua eyes that are very expressive. They are better suited physically than the compact Bacon and lanky Singer and generate some real sizzle. Brewer unfortunately does not make the best use of the camera in the dance sequences (compare them to Rob Marshall’s highly kinetic work in “Chicago,” where the camera moved like another dancer). At times he awkwardly cuts off the feet or shoulders just when we most want to see them. But he does show us the explosive energy of kids dancing together because it is just too exciting to be young and have music inside you to do anything else.
While some of the accents are wobbly, Memphis native Brewer (“Hustle and Flow”) understands the Southern rhythms of talk, especially its humor, and it is good to hear something that does not sound like a Californian’s idea of the way Southerners talk. The always-reliable Ray McKinnon is clearly very happy to play a nice guy for once. Miles Teller (“Rabbit Hole”) plays Ren’s cheerfully redneck friend Willard, and, like the late Chris Penn in the original, his scenes are a delight. Brewer, working with the original screenwriter Dean Pitchford, pays respects to the first version with touches like the red cowboy boots and the yellow VW bug, and with witty updates like the Blake Shelton cover of the title song and the effects in the final dance number. I won’t spoil the surprise of the twist he gives to Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear it for the Boy.” I liked the expansion of dance styles to include country line-dancing and crunk and loved the Big & Rich song, “Fake ID.” And whenever the talking stopped and the dancing began, I had a wonderful time.
Parents should know that this movie includes marijuana and alcohol use by teens, sexual references, crude humor, and non-explicit sexual situations, good discussion of the reasons to wait before kissing, some peril including fatal car crash (no graphic images but tragic deaths) and fighting (no one badly hurt), some strong and explicit language including homophobic epithet
Family discussion: What law would you like to challenge? How should parents decide when to be protective and when to let their teenagers take risks? Why did Ariel make bad choices?
If you like this try: the original with Kevin Bacon and Chris Penn