The thing about remaking films from the 1980s is that you have a mixed bag to grab from. The ones that are good enough to stand the test of time are holy grails that should never be touched, while the bad ones are still available in bargain bins for $2 at your local outlet store. The original Footloose, released theatrically back in the groovy days of 1984 from director Herbert Ross, is a surprisingly solid drama, filled with some of the over-the-top dance moments that characterised the decade, but also acting as a musing on the impact of religion gone mad. Already adapted once for the stage as a 1998 musical, emphasising the song and dance numbers over the drama, the Gods of Remakes have deigned that 27 years is the precise amount of time needed before this 1980s classic with the Academy Award nominated soundtrack.
Following the death of his mother, city kid with an attitude Ren McCormick (Kenny Wormald, Center Stage: Turn It Up) moves from Boston to live with his uncle in small-town Bomont, a town that has outlawed dancing and most youth-oriented culture as a result of the death of five teenagers in a car accident several years before. Frustrated by his inability to fit in with the strict rules of Bomont and its de facto patriarch Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid, The Special Relationship), Ren begins to rebel – but not as much as the preacher’s daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough, Burlesque), the sister of one of the deceased Bomont kids. For Ren, it’s time to cut loose: foot loose.
Director Craig Brewer hasn’t so much remade Footloose as restaged it. The basic storyline, and indeed much of the dialogue, has been lifted directly from the original film. Even Kevin Bacon’s famous and occasionally laughable “dance out my feelings” sequence has been recreated, seemingly right down to the last gymnastic step. Kenny Wormald may be no Kevin Bacon, but there is a definite line-through of continuity that keeps this latest dance in step with the kids from the 1980s. It is as though the producers have simply picked up Footloose by the seams and plonked it down in 2011, just to see what would happen. Amazingly, what does happen is a hell of a lot of fun.
There are certainly nods to the original film throughout, with many of the locations and shots chosen to capture the look and feel of that film. There’s the soundtrack, of course, with modern takes on the Kenny Loggins title track in virtually identical opening and closing dance sequences. There are a few clever twists, with one scene seeing the gang jump aboard tractors for the infamous race, only to crank it up a notch by putting the characters in blinged-out buses for the ultimate game of chicken: one that ends in an explosion. One may ask why it was even necessary to remake this film, when it was simply going to ape the original anyway. The simple answer, to take a leaf out of The Dark Knight, is that audiences don’t necessarily get the Footloose they needed, but the one they wanted. When the end product is as much fun as this, it doesn’t really matter if it is too much like the movie that spawned it.
With Footloose, the cast is almost secondary to the aesthetics of the piece, although they too have been chosen to recall the original cult classic. Rabbit Hole‘s Miles Teller inhabits the Chris Penn role wholly, and although his ‘learning to dance’ montage isn’t quite as goofy as the late Penn’s, he is the character worth cheering. Some strange choices have been made with some of the casting, with Dennis Quaid never quite capturing John Lithgow’s creepiness, and Andie MacDowell as his wife is a completely pointless character who additionally makes it difficult to believe she has been sitting in quiet submission for three years.
Footloose has always remained a great ‘rebel with a cause’ film because it questions the ultimate conservative institution: the church. The 2011 has the ultimate audacity to not only drop a 1980s style musical into a box office that isn’t always kind to musicals, but maintain the same pointed finger that the original leveled at mindless conservatism.