Footloose review

Footloose gets the remake treatment, and the end result really isn't too bad at all. Here's our review...

Oh, Mr Bacon. It’s been so long. But I remember. That red tuxedo… That yellow Volkswagen Beetle… That warehouse dance sequence. Because that’s how easy it is to fuel a lifelong obsession with Kevin, with his chiseled cheeks and wayward, fuzzy hair indicative of a lifetime spent sticking errant fingers in wayward sockets. What good is Footloose without that monumental fox of eighties funkiness? Can a fresh-faced imposter do justice to those Sunday shoes? Heck, is it worth his while even fastening his shoelaces?

Footloosers everywhere will be jumpy. As well as making Bacon a poster boy, the original movie delivered an iconic soundtrack stuffed with fist-pumping cheese, turning Kenny Loggins into a legend and inspiring impressionable teens to do strange things on living room carpets. Anyone who rooted for Bacon as dance dork Ren McCormack, a city kid who moves to a small town where dancing has been outlawed, will doubt that anyone else could fill his fine and funky footwear, and may consider this remake a naff shoe shuffle on dodgy ground.

As the man himself would say, jump back! This remake, which has been in the works since 2008, is not all that bad. Craig Brewer’s adaptation does draw inevitable comparisons with the 1984 box-office smash that made Bacon sizzle in the public consciousness. Still, Brewer is mindful of the original Footloose faithful and infuses his remake with the same iconography, from red cowboy boots to ‘Dance Your Ass Off’ T-shirts. Ren’s Beetle is a key survivor, but here it’s a jalopy in need of a soup-up. The message is clear. Something vintage is getting a working over — but it’s being done with love.

It’s to Brewer’s credit that, as a fan of the original, he embraces every opportunity for homage. While keen to bring a contemporary spin to the story of the groove-afflicted outsider who falls for the daughter of a preacher who imposed the dancing ban, he doesn’t deviate much from the old script — although he does update the jukebox that plays out as the town’s teens reassert the right to cut some rug. Cue lots of knowing references to the original soundtrack, fashions and dialogue, and that towering staple of cinema cheese, the eighties montage.

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It’s also to Brewer’s credit that he stuffs as much sass into the dancing as possible, even casting professional dancers in the central roles. Thanks to some feisty moves, this remake is assured and compelling. Even if it is a remake. Choreographer Jamal Sims works hard to ensure that those dance sequences bristle with attitude, from the opening scene to the barnstorming finale. Parking lots crackle with Memphis Juking and Atlanta Booty-shaking, while the notorious nightclub sequence has become an exuberant line dance (in which everyone knows their steps, obviously).

There is a trade-off. The warehouse sequence (also called The Angry Dance) is no less emphatic, but there was a dorkiness to the original, veering from drama to pure silliness, that’s been lost. Furthermore, nothing can top Bacon doing the half hambone while rocking out to Never by Moving Pictures. It’s a personal thing, I guess.

There are a few tweaks to the original story, which itself is loosely based on actual events in Elmore City, Oklahoma, in 1878, when dancing was banned for 90 years until high school teens challenged it. Some changes seem cosmetic, the result of serendipity or time passing. This ‘rebel with a cause’ redux transplants Ren from Boston rather than Chicago, and has given Bible-belt Bomont exposure to urban ‘street’ culture. Kids don’t play chicken with tractors but pimped-up buses, and they get their kicks with hip hop-skewered country rock rather than Shalamar.

Other changes seem predicated on a desire to jumpstart our sympathies. In this story, Ren has to move in with his uncle’s family after losing his mother to cancer. There is also heavier emphasis placed on the car crash that killed five teens and kick-started the dancing ban. Perhaps this narrative tweaking represents a coddling to low attention spans. Still, it ensures we have an immediate measure of sympathy for the preacher. Brewer reinforces the notion that this isn’t just a man on a public crusade, but also a fragile father who is struggling to maintain dubious damage controls even before Ren steps in.

So what of the actor tasked with taking Ren where Bacon feared to tread? There were a few casting stumbles on the way to filling that tight T-shirt. Reports speculated on the suitability of heartthrobs Zac Efron and Chace Crawford before Kenny Wormald, a professional dancer and star of Center Stage: Turn It Up, was asked to beguile a new generation and lure the Bacon massive out of our devoted stupor. Even though it’s like comparing apples with the sexiest bananas ever, Wormald is genuinely likeable in his portrayal of the bendy badass who revitalises the town with his funky two-step. He’s not so much the brooding outsider, but we can still buy into the notion that he has ‘giant coconut balls’.

Playing the troubled preacher’s daughter Ariel is Julianne Hough, country singer, professional ballroom dancer and two-time winner of Dancing with the Stars. Her portrayal of Ariel Shaw may prove more divisive, although this is no reflection on her dancing. Hough, who recently appeared in Burlesque, even did a Cha Cha to Let’s Hear It For The Boy during her first series of DWTS. She’s a better mover than Lori Singer, and her portrayal of the small town girl with big time daddy issues is no less headstrong.

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But this Ariel risks putting the ‘ho’ in hoedown, as she whips off her top rather than straddling moving vehicles for kicks. Singer brought a haughty gaucheness to the role, while this Ariel is less brittle than bonkers. Still, she’s sweet enough. (She does look like Jennifer Anniston, though.)

Miles Teller is fun as chucklehead Willard, and projects the haphazard testosterone levels required to make the fight sequences more rangy and unpredictable. Elsewhere, Dennis Quaid as Reverend Moore plays the grief card with dignity, but is no match for John Lithgow’s subtle realism, while Andie MacDowell as Vi Moore also struggles by comparison with Dianne Wiest, although her hair is still looking good on the back of those L’Oreal commercials.

We can’t discuss Footloose without mentioning the music. Brewer is not just contemporising the film, but nailing its geographical authenticity with what he calls ‘Southern grit’. Hence the soundtrack fuses hip hop with alternative rock, tub-thumping country fare, alt-country riffs and melodic ballads.

The choices are occasionally inspired, with The Smashing Pumpkins’ earthy Window Paine and gritty blues explosion Catch Hell Blues by The White Stripes. And overall, the Southern textures work, although it’s odd that they didn’t use Hough’s vocals anywhere, particularly in light of her country music pedigree. 

Brewer makes big concessions to the original soundtrack. Kenny Loggins’ ubiquitous pop jig is given a spruce-up by country star Blake Shelton, while Jana Kramer’s Let’s Hear It For The Boy elicits eruptions of delight during Willard’s training. Holding Out For A Hero gets a bland reprise as a watery ballad, but it’s also possible to hear a few bars of that feral leather-and-lace explosion during the bus race. It’s also a nice surprise to spot Bang Your Head by Quiet Riot on Ren’s MP3 player. Still, I miss Waiting for a Girl Like You by Foreigner. The film’s climactic brawl was better with Lou Gramm hitting his proverbial sweet spot.

The big question with this film is why? Presumably, Brewer thinks Bacon and co wouldn’t have the same resonance with a young audience in a post-Glee world. Granted, he is respectful, and he does retain the spirit of the original, if not the glory of Foreigner. And this reboot is a likable, jolly romp. Heck, my male companion said he would pay to watch it – not the full price, but certainly an Orange Wednesday.

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Admittedly, the original was a product and a reflection of its time. That’s partly why I loved it. But I hope this remake brings home the Bacon love. It’s not right that his most memorable supporting role of late was in American Dad as a prosthetic nose. Still, maybe one day, people will be saying the same about Wormald’s nose, too.

Sunday shoes rating? I give it three shoes. You are hereby instructed to tap your inner Loggins and bust some shapes. Because everybody’s got to cut loose.

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3 out of 5