Every film critic has his or her guilty pleasure and one of mine are dance flicks. Step Up, Strictly Ballroom, Singing in the Rain -- heck I've seen so many Bring it On films I could practically run my own cheer squad. Sure, the plots are often predictable and the characters are about as complex as a box step, but when bodies in motion blend with the right backbeat, it's cinematic bliss.
The remake of Footloose should be a fine addition to this campy canon. But Footloose version 2.0 can't be taken on its own merits: from the opening shot of the shuffling sneakers to its retro-licious soundtrack to the shot-for-shot recreations, this new film isn't just a remake, it's an homage. Though the skirts are skimpier and the teens now have iPods, Footloose is slavish in its devotion to the original.
The director of the new version is Craig Brewer, an accomplished filmmaker who showed a talent for syncing movies and music with Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. Perhaps when the latter flopped, however, he decided to play it safe with his first big studio picture. Hence, we get another round of déjà vu cinema.
The new Footloose has all the classic's elements: Willard dancing to Let's Hear It for the Boy, Ren's angry solo boogie battle and the final prom -- complete with a wine-coloured tux like the one Kevin Bacon sported. Brewer has said that without those moments, the movie just wouldn't be Footloose, which doesn't quite answer the question: "Why remake it in the first place?"
For those of us unfamiliar with the pleasures of Footloose, a short summary of the newish version:
Ren McCormack is a city boy from Boston who comes to the small town of Bomot, Tenn. after his mother dies. A gymnast, he also loves to dance. However, the people of Bomont have made it illegal for young people to dance in public after five teens lost their lives in a post-party crash. The good Reverend Moore tries to keep the town on the straight and narrow while, behind his back, his daughter Ariel gets down and dirty.
Stepping into Kevin Bacon's sneakers as Ren is Kenny Wormald, who -- with his duckbill hairstyle, sock tie and leather jacket -- looks like a blend of Bacon, River Phoenix and early Tom Cruise all rolled into one. Wormald comes from a dance background and certainly has the moves. If anything, Footloose makes Ren a little too good: he fixes cars, works at the cotton gin, resists Ariel's temptations and even quotes the word of God in a bible-thumping speech before the town council.
Then there's Ariel, as played by Julianne Hough -- best known for breaking out on Dancing With The Stars as well as being on the arm of Ryan Seacrest. There's not much mystery to her character since this Footloose begins with the accident that took her brother's life and changed her father the Reverend, portrayed by a timid Dennis Quaid. A little more off-kilter is Miles Teller, who has a bit of fun as Willard, a trucker hat-wearing smart-alec with two left feet.
If you're looking for a silly southern romp with watered-down Red versus Blue state subtext, the new Footloose will do ya fine. It's Hee Haw meets hip hop, where one moment the kids crunk at the drive-in before shifting to line-dancing at the local cowboy bar.
Ren and Ariel are effective, but they're about as dangerous as the High School Musical crew. Footloose isn't a movie that's looking to rebel. Think of it as a favourite comfort food: something funky, but familiar. They are great moments of joy on the dance floor as Wormald and Hough whip their hips with abandon. It's too bad the story was shackled from frame one.
RATING: Three honky-tonk glitter balls out of five.
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