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Footloose

a film by Craig Brewer

For those of my generation (that infamous Gen X crowd), the original Footloose, released in 1984, was a sort of cultural icon movie. It may not have been a great work of cinematic art, but it was good enough, and fun enough to make us teenagers stand up and take notice - perhaps even stand up and dance. The reason behind this iconic status is not the director (Herbert Ross, though a capable director, is not exactly someone one would call an auteur), nor is it the then-rising star Kevin Bacon as rebel with a cause Ren McCormack (the James Dean figure in this strangely obvious homage to the 1955 Nicholas Ray classic).

The reason behind all the mid eighties hoopla is the soundtrack that came along with the film. From the Kenny Loggins title track and Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear it For the Boy" (both number one hits) to "Holding Out For A Hero" from Bonnie Tyler and "Dancing in the Sheets" by Shalamar to the love ballad "Almost Paradise" by Ann Wilson and Mike Reno, the original Footloose soundtrack got a nation of teenagers (and some older) to get up and dance. It may seem a bit cheesy now (and if not cheesy, what were the eighties) but at the time it was (yeah, I'm gonna say it) almost paradise. But that was then, and this is now. Let's talk about the remake.

Directed by Craig Brewer (his work on Black Snake Moan and Hustle and Flow were the reasons my curiosity was piqued on this project) and moved from the original's Midwest setting to the deep south of Brewer's dreams, this new version of the story (you know, that same old story where the city boy shows up in Hickville USA, gets in to trouble, falls for the wild child preacher's daughter, finds out it is against the law to dance, but dances anyway) is actually quite surprisingly well done. Like I said earlier, the original is not exactly great cinema, so the bar is a bit lower than if Brewer were trying his hand at a true classic, but the iconic status of the original, in my aforementioned Gen X crowd, could have made this a bit of a hard sell. Well, it sold this old cynic.

Holding onto a strong grip to the original, Brewer's update is more like the original than less. From exactly duplicated dialogue to Ren's beat up yellow Beetle and tacky but great maroon tux jacket, Brewer has kept the essence of the film intact - and in a way has even managed to give it a bit more depth than the original. Even the soundtrack, with (again) surprisingly well done covers of several of the songs, manages to keep the spirit of the 1984 film alive while bringing it into a new millennium. Brewer has said, "I can promise Footloose fans that I will be true to the spirit of the original film. But I still gotta put my own Southern grit into it and kick it into 2011" - and this he does. This new version may not end up being the cultural event the original ended up being, but it does put on a fine show indeed.

The film stars Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough in the roles originally played by Bacon and Lori Singer. Both actors are dancers, so there are no body doubles as there were in the original (sorry Kevin), but they do actually do a rather good job at that whole acting thing as well. Wormald has a certain kind of charm to his rebellious Ren and Hough shows her acting chops and proves she can be more than just a hot body and a pretty smile. We also get Miles Teller as the backwards Willard (originally played by the late Chris Penn), Ziah Colon in the Sarah Jessica Parker role of Rusty, and Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell as the preacher and his wife (originally John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest). All-in-all, as quality (or lack of quality, depending on your outlook) a cast as the original.

But that is just what Brewer has created here - a remake that can match the original punch for punch and dance move for dance move. Kicked, as Brewer said, into 2011, his new version updates the songs and dancing styles, but we still get the chickie run (here in the racing buses of Nascar country instead of the tractors of the Midwest) and the angry warehouse dance of Ren (still as silly as ever) and the "Let's Hear it for the Boy" dance lessons (done with the help of a group of little girls and a karaoke machine) and we even get Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head (Metal Health)" blasting out of the speakers of Ren's bug. In sum, if you liked the original (as many of my generation does) you will most likely enjoy this. If you didn't, well...what the Hell do you know anyway? [10/21/11]

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