The 2011 version of Footloose is a remake intended for a new generation who have no interest in a thirty year old film starring that guy from X-Men and that guy from that sitcom about aliens with the kid who was awesome in Inception. With Craig Brewer‘s slick directing that new generation is in for a good ride – even if the central conceit was a bit dusty in 1984. Brewer finds the truth in overprotective parents enough to make this an entertaining, and faithful (almost too faithful) adaptation of the original.

The Players:

The Plot:

Ren McCormack (Wormald) is an orphaned Boston kid who goes to live with his uncle in Georgia. What he doesn’t know about the town is that there’s laws against anyone under eighteen dancing and partying after a car accident which killed the son of the local Reverend, Shaw Moore (Quaid). The kids in town don’t care about the rules, though – especially Ariel (Hough) who’s dating a race car driver and likes to live wild. Ren is immediately picked on by the people in charge for listening to loud music, and seen as a disruption. On the bright side Ren quickly makes friends with Willard (Teller), while Ariel knows a good troublemaker when she sees one. But Ren’s actually got it together, and decides to fight the laws against teen partying.

The Good:

  • More of a musical: The first film was about dancing, but wasn’t much of a musical – even if every song on the soundtrack became a hit. That’s partly Craig Brewer’s gifts as a filmmaker, he makes films that are musicals without ever becoming full blown. But music is at the core of this movie, and it gives it a pulse and a vibrancy that is not felt in the original.
  • Wormald and Teller: These two hit a good rhythm early and are fun to watch play against each other, especially when Wormald’s Ren teaches Willard how to dance.
  • It’s about Respect: What I think makes both films work is about adults coming to respect teenagers for not being wild things, and that works fine.

The Bad:

  • It’s the Same Movie: When people do covers there are usually two types, one that tries to reinvent the song for the new musicians who then make it their own, and the other tries to do a reasonably faithful (almost Karaoke) version. This Footloose is more the latter than the former. There’s a couple of different touches here and there, but having recently watched the original film  again made this version feel like a re-run. It’s not Gus Van Sant’s Psycho level stuff, but from Ren being arrested for loud music, to the “angry dance” to the sequence where they go to a honky-tonk bar, to the conclusion, to the film’s big speech, to Ariel telling off her parents, to the clothing, there are so many lifts that having watched this version in close proximity to the original, I didn’t know if it built the sense of the world closing in on Ren as much as the original, or if I couldn’t tell because eventually I was just seeing sequences that felt too familiar to judge in the context of their narrative.
  • Julianne Hough: Brewer comes across as an actor’s director, and that he couldn’t get much of a performance out of Hough speaks to her gifts. A dancer (and she’s got some moves), on screen she comes across as another in a line of Jennifer Aniston clothes that seem to learn to act by watching Friends. Which means when she’s got her big emotional beats they fall a little flat. Lori Singer’s character seemed suicidal, Hough could pull off bored and curious, but she can’t hit that deeper level of empathy the role requires.

Overall:

I thought the 1984 version was just okay, and I think this version is just okay as well. It improves some things – I like that the kids basically don’t care about the dancing law, so much as it exists to show the divide between parents and children – where other elements in the original are slightly better (John Lithgow’s preacher trumps Quaid’s). The film is intended for that younger audience who didn’t see the original, and that doesn’t defend it, it does raise interesting question about American culture. Are we still – in some ways – stuck in the 1980′s, or is it just our pop culture (especially in a weekend where one of the other big releases is a sequel to a 1982 film)?

Rating: 7/10

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Trailer:

Footloose opens October 14.