Craig Brewer’s remake of Footloose opens with Kenny Loggins’ original title track, and as kids dance and drink and drive off into the night, the first impression is one of reverence -- even when Brewer promptly slams an 18-wheeler and brings the move-busting to a halt.
In the 1984 film, we were only told about the car accident that caused a small town to institute a ban on underage dancing, for the safety of their teens. Here, it’s front and center, and it serves as a sturdier excuse for the (still) far-fetched law to be passed and, later on, for the rural town of Bomont, Georgia, to rebuild itself with the help of rebellious, dance-happy outsider Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald, stepping into Kevin Bacon’s iconic role).
The Chicago boy is now a Bostonian shipped south to live with his aunt and uncle in the wake of his mother’s death, where he befriends the rhythm-less Willard (Miles Teller) and exchanges passing glances with Ariel (Julianne Hough), daughter of the stern Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) and sister to one of the original accident victims. Ren’s the one who keeps getting into trouble, and yet his uncle (Ray McKinnon) knows better and backs him in the face of Moore and other authorities.
As a writer, Brewer deviates fairly little from Dean Pitchford’s original screenplay -- so little that the two share a credit -- but as a director, the helmer of Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan brings a welcome amount of small-town credibility to the table, depicting the community of Bomont with a conservatism equal to that of the first film and yet favoring parental concern over religious fervor. The kids rock their iPods and sneak off to Atlanta from time to time, restricted by their parents’ mindset but not necessarily their rural environs, and reheated or not, it’s nice to see a drama about dance, however unlikely the circumstances, over another generic dance-off flick with a halfhearted underdog plot strung along between competitions.
With that said, Footloose retains its fair share of corny moments. Even when backed by the White Stripes, Ren’s angsty warehouse dance sequence is still hard to take with a straight face, and a demolition derby involving school buses is only marginally less silly than a game of chicken on tractors. The cover-heavy soundtrack feels about as obligatory and unremarkable as one might expect, and while it’s nice to see Brewer work in original tracks like “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” we’re left to believe that a gaggle of adorable tykes in 2011 know that ‘80s hit verbatim. It speaks to that earlier sense of admiration for the original, a film that already asks us to re-buy that laws like these would exist, if only so that noble Yankee teens might sweep down to refute them.
Wormald is certainly every bit as photogenic as his love interest, and a trained dancer to boot (not to mention a native Bostonian, which makes it harder to question his wavering but seemingly authentic accent), but the sparks between him and Hough on the dance floor are genuine, with Brewer deserving his fair share of credit for sexing matters up so far as a PG-13 will allow. Wormald also pairs off nicely with Teller, who does justice to Chris Penn’s scene-stealing role and boasts an equal amount of charm. Although Lithgow stood out with his scenes of moral strife as the town's moral compass, Quaid feels like the most perfunctory inclusion here; he’s not bad, but he deviates little from a given pout -- whether aimed at Ren or Ariel -- and as a result, he hardly brings the same weight to the part.
I’ll take all of this over the long-rumored Kenny Ortega-Zac Efron collaboration that would’ve taken things more in the super-squeaky vein of High School Musical. This incarnation of Footloose may not make as great a dent in the current generation as the original film did, but it does offer up a commendable amount of energy and heart to its tale of rebellion in the high school halls -- enough that it ultimately proves itself worthy of that title.