When “Footloose” originally came out in 1984, it was a dance movie with a flimsy plot about a town that bans public dancing and the young rebels that see a cause to resist. But its catchy soundtrack rode a nascent MTV tidal wave and spawned six Top 40 songs, turning the film into a huge sleeper hit and its lead Kevin Bacon into a star.
Rebooting the original, especially in this era of dance reality TV shows, is not a bad idea, and this slicked-up, more-hot-stepping version that casts two experienced dancers (Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough) certainly amps up the volume with both of them doing some fancy footwork — everything from a little dirty dancing to line dancing.
Director Craig Brewer (“Hustle and Flow”), who consulted the original screenwriter and song lyricist Dean Pitchford, pays considerable homage to its predecessor with a mirror storyline and copycat dialogue, updated to include more contemporary references. Brewer does add more dramatic punch to the opening. As in the original, a car crash kills some of the kids (including the preacher’s son) after a night of partying precipitating the town’s draconian laws. But this time Brewer chooses to show it. He also wisely changed the setting from a white-bread town to a more updated, integrated small community.
The new soundtrack also reflects a more southern country-rock essence with the Kenny Loggins feature track now sung by Blake Shelton and remakes of favorites like “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” and “Almost Paradise.” There are also new tracks by the likes of Zac Brown, Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and Kenny Wayne Shepherd paired with Cee Lo Green.
This is definitely not just another remake spit out by a studio looking for a quick box-office buck. It’s actually pretty good as lightweight entertainment goes, especially if you haven’t seen the original.
In comparison, the ’80s version might look a little cheesy now, but it still has an authenticity this shiny new one lacks, mainly due to the original’s excellent casting, which also included Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Penn in supporting roles. John Lithgow nailed the performance of the stoic preacher in the first one, while Dennis Quaid just looks uncomfortable in this one.
Julianne Hough, fresh from “Dancing With the Stars,” is perky and feisty as Ariel, the rebellious preacher’s daughter, but still lacks the brooding danger Lori Singer infused in the original. Kenny Wormald, with his James Dean quiff and skinny ties, plays an appealing Ren McCormack, the new kid in town who won’t play by the rules. Kevin Bacon may not have screamed instant heartthrob when he originated the role, but as his later work proved, he is an actor with real chops, which added dimension to an otherwise cliche character.
Sure, he had to have five dancing and gymnastic body doubles to pull of the iconic “angry dance,” while Wormald (this time dancing to the hard-rocking twang of the White Stripes' “Catch Hell Blues” ) pulls it off with ease. But I guess it’s a case of whether you prefer better dancing or better acting.
My advice: Go and see this one first and enjoy it for what it is, then maybe pay a nostalgic revisit to the original.
KATHERINE TULICH has written about film for more than 20 years. A Sydney, Australia native, she was the film critic and feature writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian correspondent for the Hollywood Reporter, and a guest critic on “At the Movies” with Ebert and Roeper. She can be reached at email@example.com.