“Footloose” Review: Missing Kevin Bacon
Let’s be honest: The original Footloose is not a great movie. A cheesy storyline, incredibly hammy acting, and a tractor chicken race—all ingredients for a movie disaster. Yet with the charismatic and swoonable Kevin Bacon, director Herbert Ross (Steel Magnolias), and the electrifying soundtrack featuring the eponymous Kenny Loggins’ single, the movie was greater than the sum of its parts. It became a box office smash and a classic. And for many, myself included, the movie still makes you feel nostalgic and kinda irritated that anyone would dare remake it. And after seeing the Footloose remake, you may still find yourself irritated.
Why? Because a remake should try to find something new in the material. It should look for a fresh perspective. It shouldn’t simply reset the story in a different time or place and change a few details. Unfortunately, the new Footloose does just that. It is the original film set in present-day Georgia, with a few plot changes, and a cast that apparently stepped right off the So You Think You Can Dance set.
Like the original, the film focuses on Ren (here played by Kenny Wormald), a city boy who struggles against the small town mindset of the small town Bomont. Empowered by his budding relationship with Ariel (Julianna Hough) and his friendship with Willard (Miles Teller), he begins to fight the town’s rules against loud music and dancing, directly taking on Ariel’s minister father (Dennis Quaid).
Those familiar with the original will immediately see the many, many similarities. Images of dancing feet at the beginning? Check. ‘50s-inspired clothing and hair? Check. A VW bug, the dance at the diner, the fight at the dance? Check. Check. Check. Yes there are changes: an odd dirt-track bus race instead of a tractor race, Ren with a Boston accent, more scenes devoted to amazing dancing. (For a town of only 19,000 people who haven’t been allowed to dance in year, there is an astonishing amount of ridiculously talented adolescent dancers!) Yet with scripted lines and dance steps lifted directly from the original, the movie begins to feel more like a repurpose—regurgitation?—than a remake.
Wormald is a tremendous dancer (you don’t see a dancing body double during his dance in the warehouse) and has some bad-boy bravado, yet ultimately his performance is flat—especially in comparison to Bacon’s. Like an understudy, he’s perfectly good but not the person you paid to see. Hough’s Ariel, on the other hand, is a bright spot. She not only possesses incredible dancing skills, but also proves to be a great actress. Of particular note is her confrontational scene with Dennis Quaid.
While it is certainly okay to pay homage and give older moviegoers some nostalgia, too often the movie is encumbered by the original. It isn’t enough to add in more dancing. Director/co-writer Craig Brewer should have felt freer with the material, after all this is Footloose, not Hamlet. New scenes should have been created. Plot points cut or rearranged. Instead, the movie feels like it’s playing dress-up in an older film’s legwarmers. Regardless, younger moviegoers, who’ve never seen the 1984 version, may be inspired by the new film. But for those of us who’ve seen the 1984 version many, many times, the new film will inspire use to watch the original again.
My Grade: C