FEMA can take a day off because there’s at least one remake that won’t be called a natural disaster. Director Craig Brewer pulled off a major win in taking on the 1984 classic that screamed “train wreck” when it was announced a couple years ago. Welcome to Footloose 2.0!
Technically, it’s version 3.0, after a version that was to be helmed by Kenny Ortega was thrown out when the director and the studio parted ways. Although reluctant at first, Footloose fan and co-writer of the new version, Craig Brewer signed on to the project with the edict that he’d only get in the director’s chair if it could be done his way. Brewer is wise enough to know not to try to reinvent the wheel but just to throw on a new pair of rims to appeal to the kids.
As in the original made famous by Kevin Bacon, the southern town of Bomont, Ga. is filled with kids laughing, drinking, partying and most of all dancing (after all, it is Footloose). On the way home from a party one night, a tragic accident takes the lives of a car full of the town’s teens including the son of town leader Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid).
Instead of this becoming a cautionary tale against underage drinking and driving, the town goes into full protective mode banning all kinds of “outrageous” behavior and that includes dancing. Jump ahead a few years and we are introduced to Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), a new arrival from Boston. Having recently lost his mom to cancer, he’s living with his uncle Wes. However, it’s not long before his big city ways and dancing feet make him adored by town bad girl Ariel (Julianne Hough) and frowned upon by everyone else.
The only confrontation he turns to his advantage is meeting Willard (Miles Teller in a role originally played by Chris Penn), a fellow football player. They soon become fast buds and it’s a good thing, because Ren will take on Ariel’s dad, her violent ex-boyfriend and all the adults in town merely for the chance to get…footloose.
Taking on the 1984 classic that you (and maybe your parents) grew up with is one thing. Casting virtual unknowns and trying to make it upbeat and cool without drifting into the Glee category is a job in and of itself. Brewer wisely pays homage to the original starting with the familiar cuts of feet dancing to them actually singing the “Footloose” theme. He also reenacts and puts his own modern spin on the solo angry dance sequence made famous in the original.
Picking Wormald to lead this acting dance troupe was another fine choice. He doesn’t look as rugged as Bacon, and there should’ve been more care with his natural Boston accent going in and out in the first act, but it’s not sacrilegious to say that Wormald makes the role his own. He’s got the looks to make the girls swoon and the moves to make guys want to take a shot at line dancing. I kid you not.
Ziah Colon plays Rusty. Her part of sometimes sidekick to Ariel and love interest to Willard is a pleasant diversion when the movie threatens to take itself too seriously. Not only does she work nicely in the part played by Sarah Jessica Parker, but her exotic looks alone are a guarantee that we’ll be seeing more of her.
Julianne Hough was the only main holdover from the Ortega project and Brewer made her prove that she was worthy of playing the flirtatious preacher’s daughter. Being a good dancer would’ve only filled half the job description, because unlike the ’80s version, this Footloose deals with some heavy issues, from domestic violence to suicide.
Of course, what is Footloose without the dancing? And there’s a lot of it. Instead of watching a bunch of Southern kids automatically turn into America’s Best Dance Crew, Brewer manages to put in the dance numbers without them feeling forced and that’s where the film truly shines. The dances are full of energy, but don’t contain eye-twisting acrobatics that could turn off some of the over 13 crowd. Taking on a bit of a southern rock vibe nicely fed into Ren being a bit of a fish out of water, but also serves as a nice transition to his tutelage of Willard courtesy of a funny dance montage.
Craig Brewer may not have removed all cynicism regarding remakes, but he’s proven that there should at least be a debate, especially when you know how to put on the right moves in front of and behind the camera.
Footloose may not be an instant classic, but it’s one of the better remakes that I’ve seen in a long time. It manages to stay true to the original while shining on its own.