Among the many notable albums of 1984 are the soundtracks for This Is Spinal Tap, Stop Making Sense, Purple Rain and Footloose – very different music, very different movies, but all influential and enduring cultural artifacts. But only one, apparently, had remake potential.
The new Footloose, it turns out, is not all that different – in plot, characters and themes – from the original, which was a box-office hit and made a star of Kevin Bacon, playing a spirited city teenager who moves to a small town where dancing is banned and who endeavours to overturn the law so he and his classmates can hold a proper senior prom.
Even if you’ve never seen the first Footloose, you’ve likely heard the bouncy, twangy, title track, sung by Kenny Loggins. It was a No. 1 single in 1984 and really never went away (thank you, classic radio). The song opens the new Footloose as a group of high-school seniors cut loose at a tailgate party. But the upbeat mood is snuffed out when, on the way home, a car driven by the only son of Rev. Shaw (Dennis Quaid) crashes headlong into a truck, killing all five passengers.
This tragedy prompts the town council, which includes the influential clergyman, to ban dancing and loud music and to impose a curfew on youth. Bummer.
Three years later, Boston boy Ren McCormack, whose mother recently died, moves in with his uncle’s family. He makes new friends and an enemy or two, and roars around town in a yellow Volkswagen he fixes up (without getting one spot of grease on his hands or T-shirt). Ren, who likes to shake his booty every now and then, can’t believe dancing is illegal. Far too late in the movie, he decides the ban has got to go.
This Footloose is directed by Craig Brewer, whose Memphis-set Hustle & Flow won the 2005 audience award at the Sundance Film Festival and a best-song Oscar for It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp. He co-wrote Footloose with Dean Pitchford (who penned the original), setting it in his comfort zone, the American south (Georgia specifically) and tweaking the characters, lingo and bits of business to suit the region.
Ren is played by newcomer Kenny Wormald, a professional dancer who shows great promise in his first leading big-screen role. Dancing With the Stars vet and country-music singer Julianne Hough plays Ariel, the minister’s rebellious daughter, who slowly turns her eye from her violence-prone boyfriend (Patrick John Flueger) to the cocky but cautious Ren.
While dance sequences are not particularly well edited compared to the new breed of dance flick, Wormald and Hough are exciting hoofers to watch. And they both have an appealing natural onscreen presence as Ren and Ariel’s romance blossoms.
There are some nicely written one-on-one scenes that show evolving personal relationships between characters, but Brewer attempts too much here, giving us too many scenes that tell us the same thing. Footloose, which clocks in at almost two hours, soon grows unwieldy and disturbingly uneven in tone.
More than once a touching scene or a gleeful montage is followed by gratuitous fisticuffs or some other jarringly violent act. For a town that supposedly has its teens on lockdown, there is a lot of curfew-breaking, not to mention brawling and destruction of property, with no consequences. If the banishment of dancing is pushing the kids toward violent behaviour, the film doesn’t do an effective job of making the connection.
Footloose drags its heels to the senior prom and, when it finally gets there, shoves in one last punch-up that puts an odd spin on what should be an upbeat display of happy feet.
Special to The Globe and Mail
- Directed by Craig Brewer
- Written by Craig Brewer and Dean Pitchford
- Starring Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Andie MacDowell, Dennis Quaid, Miles Teller, Ray McKinnon and Patrick John Flueger
- Classification: PG