A kid from Boston (allegedly) shakes up a small Georgia town in Footloose, a weirdly anachronistic remake of the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie.
To which I have no allegiance, I’d like to state right up front. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually seen the entire movie (I think most of my memories of it are from music videos) and certainly didn’t see it when it came out. The movie has always seemed like a cheesefood artifact to me. My apologies to those Footloose fanatics out there.
A few years back, the town of Bomont, Georgia, was shocked by the deaths of five popular teenagers in a car accident after a party. To “save” the rest of the town’s children, the city fathers (fresh from the time-space wormhole to 1953) voted for a series of rules: no lascivious music, no unchaperoned big parties, no dancing in city limits for anyone under 18. Ariel Moore (Julianne Hough), daughter of Reverend and city councilor Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), looked on with disapproval as her father passed these rules. Now older, she enjoys flaunting the rules and painting herself as a wild child — wearing tight jeans or short short skirts with her red cowboy boots, dancing with abandon at the local drive-in movie theater, dating a total jerkface loser named Chuck Cranston (Patrick John Flueger). Lots of stomping around, lots of slamming doors when Shaw tries to get Ariel to mend her ways.
More astute teenagers, ones who had ever watched TV or read any YA book written in the last 40 years, would think of Ariel as a hard-core poseur (in fact, one kid does almost say as much). But Boston-born-and-bred big city boy Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) finds her brand of teen-girl crazy exciting. When he comes to Bomont to live with his Uncle Wes (Ray McKinnon) and Aunt Amy (Maggie Jones) and their kids, Ariel is the first person he meets and soon the two are giving each other the eye. When Shaw sees his daughter dancing with Ren, he decides the kid’s no good and goes to deliver the most ridiculous “tell your boy to stay away from my daughter” warning to Wes ever.
Seems Ren has got himself a “reputation” what with a nuisance traffic stop by a police officer who took exception to his loud music (from a rather impressively rigged iPod) and a laughably stupid incident involving a joint in the school library. When new buddies like Willard (Miles Teller) and Rusty (Ziah Colon) explain the no-dancing rules to Ren, he decides to fight the man and try to give the kids a school dance where they can really cut loose.
You know, to up-tempo light rock hits from the 1980s, as the teens enjoy so much these days.
A word about Kenny Wormald: the actor, like the character, was apparently born in Boston and grew up in Massachusetts (according to, you know, the Internet). But I was shocked to find this out because his “Boston accent” sounded, to me, full-on shrimp-on-the-barbie Australian. Pair that with his mid-1980s Michael J. Fox wardrobe (think kid from Teen Wolf with a few of Alex P. Keaton’s ties) and his exceptionally un-modern James Dean hair and you have a honking, neon-colored ball of weirdness that comes leaping out of every scene. I get that the character is the standard “stranger comes to town” character, but everything about him makes him seem totally alien, not just to the town but to the entire planet. Ren does not come across as fish out of water — he’s a fish dressed up in a costume from West Side Story and cast in an otherwise human production of Oklahoma.
And the weirdness of his character got me thinking about the weirdness of the movie overall. Like, how all the kids were dancing to pop-country and remakes of 1980s songs from the original movie. Really? Is there some sort of Rihanna/Lady Gaga net on the outskirts of town that keeps any modern-sounding music from reaching the teens, be it by TV or iTunes or CD at the local Walmart (and you know that however “all the kids ride cows to school” this town is, there’s a local Walmart)? I get that the movie’s shtick is countrifying the pop-rock original, but the result is something exceptionally fake-seeming — it would be like seeing a movie from the end of the 1960s where kids are sporting late-era Betty Draper hair dancing to Big Band music.
Which brings me to — who is this movie for? Not me, clearly, though yes, there is a bit of nostalgia hearing those 1980s songs. On the other hand, compared to, say, Madonna or Prince, that music seems a bit fuddy-duddy even for its day. Probably not people older than me, who if they craved Footloose could watch the original. And people younger than me have much better options for teenage expression and rebellion set to music. Any given episode of Glee, for example. Or pick something tamer. Sure, nobody is doin’ it in High School Musical, but the dancing is way more interesting.
I think part of what irks me so about this movie is that I genuinely enjoy a good dance movie — the Step Ups, Take the Lead, pretty much any movie where some group of delinquents/outsiders solve their problems with the fox trot or street-dance. The premise of this remake — that the post-party death of five teens drove a town to overprotective extremes — is actually not bad. But the execution is spirit-crushing — mine and whatever spirit of liveliness the movie could have contained. Why not actually update the movie — the music, the dancing, the kids. Let them live in the world of hip-hop and Facebook updates from cousins in other parts of the country. Show adults trying to death-grip an idea of a small town even as the modern world encroaches from all sides. That could have been interesting or at least given the movie enough of an update to make it seem like something fresh. C-
Rated PG-13 for some teenage drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language. Directed by Craig Brewer with a screenplay by Dean Pitchford and Craig Brewer, Footloose is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Pictures. It opens wide on Friday, Oct. 14.