Footloose full movie review - Hewing a little too slavishly close to the original, this remake is nonetheless a surprisingly character-driven drama that possesses the exuberant spirit of the 1984 classic
What's the indie director of gritty pulp fare like 'Hustle and Flow' and 'Black Snake Moan' doing at the helm of a '80s teenage movie remake?
Well frankly we were not quite sure till we caught his updated version of 'Footloose', and realised that director and co-writer Craig Brewer saw something much more within the original that went beyond the regular 'Step Up', 'Stomp the Yard' and 'StreetDance' modern-day teen-dance movies.
Like those films, 'Footloose' is about celebrating the spirit of youth through the freedom of movement, so expect the characters to speak passionately about how dancing isn't just a frivolous activity, or worse still an act of rebellion against authority. But while these other films were simply content to wow their audiences with some spectacular dance moves, Brewer surprisingly places story and character front and centre, using dance only as a device to either.
Beginning with a toe-tapping prologue set to a hip-hop version of Kenny Loggins' title tune, Brewer and his co-writer Dean Pitchford (who was behind the 1984 original) kicks things off with a literal bang when five teenagers are killed in a road accident after a night out partying and most importantly dancing. Among the dead is the son of Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), a preacher in the small town of Bomont, who believes the act is a test from the Lord and exhorts the local community to put its young people under curfew and ban loud music and public dancing.
Even from these opening minutes, it is clear that Brewer's writing possesses admirable finesse- and instead of the fire and brimstone we would expect from a caricatured depiction of a Southern preacher, we get the deeply personal words of Rev. Moore that ring with the agony and grief of a parent. Into this restrictive environment enters big-city kid Ren McCormick (newcomer Kenny Wormald), who has returned to stay with his aunt and uncle after burying his mother.
Ren's first brush with the strictures of the town is getting fined for cranking the music in his yellow VW bug too loudly, and let's just say that his reputation with the adult townsfolk just goes downhill from there. Those familiar with the original will start noticing the similarities between Brewer's update and its source- the yellow VW for one, and also the Rev Moore's rebellious daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) who is not quite the same after her brother's death.
Exchanging tractors in the original for racecars, the modern-day Ariel still lives on the edge by dating a local racing lout Chuck (Patrick John Flueger), but is immediately drawn to Ren following a clandestine dance session at an outdoor movie theatre. Ren and Ariel's mutual attraction fuels the tension at the heart of the story, first between Ren and Chuck as romantic rivals who duke it out in a dirt-track race using modified school buses, and then later between Ren and the Rev. Moore who sees Ariel's errant ways as a result of Ren's bad influence.
It takes a while for Brewer to set up these characters and their relationships, so expect the first hour- that also contains the jealous boyfriend element which kinda falls flat- to be less fleet-footed than you would expect. Nonetheless, the pace picks up considerably once Ren decides to start a petition to end the law against public dancing, which also puts him on a direct collision course with Rev. Moore. The dynamic between these two characters is especially interesting- one the father grieving over the loss of his son; and the other a son grieving over the loss of his mother- and a scene where they come to mutual understanding of their common circumstances is deeply poignant.
But Brewer doesn't forget he's making a commercial product, not one of his specialty films, so he hasn't left out the obligatory comic relief that comes in the form of Ren's awkwardly shy best buddy Willard (Miles Teller). Deserving of special mention, Teller delivers a charmingly goofy performance radically different from his last appearance in 'Rabbit Hole' that is about as endearing as it gets. The hilarity is fortunate, for the dance sequences, while well integrated into the flow of the story, are quite forgettable- even the 'angry dance' replicated from the original by Ren at an abandoned warehouse after being wrongfully accused of drug possession. Choreographer Jamal Sims still makes these sequences look good on screen, but there isn't anything on display that will make you go 'wow'.
Bland is also the same description that can be used with lead actor Wormald, who could very well do with a little more of the film's own advice of cutting loose. Playing Ren all too straight-laced, there is too little of the brashness and insouciance in his performance that is required of his character. Hough fares much better, the 'Dancing with the Stars' alum absolutely luminous and sexy as Ariel in clothes so tight that 'if you put a quarter in her back pocket you can tell whether it's heads or tails'. Still, Wormald and Hough have good chemistry together, both of them better dancers than they are actors.
Of course, given the uncharacteristically character-driven approach Brewer has taken with the material, one wishes for better lead actors to play Ren and Ariel. Yet there is still much to enjoy about this remake of a generation's classic, which is a surprisingly solid movie with strong story and character elements. And though it is true his version veers closely to the original, it is clear that Brewer has taken great effort to craft a remake that pays homage to its source while introducing the 'Footloose' revolution to a new generation. It may not get to its feet as often as you would want it to, but its spirit of living out loud and cutting it loose is still very much alive.