The original Footloose starring Kevin Bacon is one of those cherished films that the younger generation of the time grew up with and still loves to this day. Now in their late 30’s and early 40’s, those people surely remember the high spirited energy and reckless abandon of the characters who stood up and challenged a ridiculous anti-dancing law. What they probably don’t remember is that the movie is a mess. It wants to say one thing, but instead says another. Its message of expressive freedom is rendered moot by a screenplay with plot turns that contradict it. The remake is, by and large, the same. Aside from a few minor, yet notable differences, 2011’s Footloose suffers from identical problems. For all intents and purposes, the majority of this review can double as a review of the original. It’s a two for one. You’re welcome.
Ren McCormack, this time played by Kenny Wormald, is a high school teen from Boston who has just landed in the small town of Bomont, Georgia. Because of a fatal accident a few years back that occurred after a night of riotous partying, dancing and listening to loud, vulgar music have been outlawed. The person most in favor of the law is Reverend Moore, played by Dennis Quaid, who lost his son in the accident. It’s because of him the town finds dancing sinful. Ren, being the free spirit he is, disagrees with the rest of the town and, along with his new friend, Willard, played by Miles Teller, and Reverend Moore’s beautiful, but rebellious daughter, Ariel, played by Julianne Hough, he sets out to change the law and open the minds of the people of Bomont.
If a winner must be chosen, it seems pretty clear to me that this remake is a superior film than the original, even if only slightly. It’s cleaner, tighter and it does away with many of the extraneous side characters that were given little to do. Ren’s mother, who sat around and twiddled her thumbs in the original, is rightfully forgotten here, replaced by his aunt who lends an ear when the time comes for Ren’s big emotional spill about why he has to fight authority. The book burning townsfolk who came off as caricatures are also dropped, giving more time to the story at hand. In those ways, as minor as they are, this version of Footloose is able to improve upon a much loved story.
Unfortunately, the bulk of it is still the same. The situations remain, the characters are unchanged and much of the dialogue is copy and paste. If you’re familiar with the original, prepare to get a strong sense of déjà vu upon watching this. This remake is a film that refuses to find its own voice and it’s that refusal to change, to adapt to our times, that makes it suffer. It uses different musicians like Wiz Khalifa to portray the type of music the town is against, but it still rests on the same foundation of the 1984 film. Even back then, it was a story that was hard to take seriously, but it’s even harder today. The rebellious preacher’s daughter, for instance, may not have been much of a cliché in 1984, but it sure is now.
Its biggest and most glaring flaw, the entire reason both movies fail, is its approach to confronting the supposedly unjust law. Here’s a movie that wants to make the argument that dancing and music of all types don’t lead to rebellion and violence, yet nearly every violent act in the movie happens at a dance or stems directly from dancing. When Ren and his pals head out of the town to dance at a bar, Willard is overcome with jealousy while watching a random man dance with his girl, which leads to him getting his face smashed. Later, due to her attraction to the rebellious nature of Ren and his willingness to dance in the face of the law, Ariel gets smacked around by her boyfriend. When the kids finally get the approval of the town to host a dance, a fight breaks out almost immediately in front of the building it’s being held in. These things wouldn’t have happened had Ren not started a minor revolution and began dancing. In these ways, the film goes against its very reason for being.
For every step forward, this remake takes, oh, I don’t know, half a step back. It’s always leading its predecessor in terms of quality, but it’s never far off from it. I suppose if you liked the original, you will enjoy this one too, but if this story is ever told again, significant changes to its poor narrative construction need to be implemented for it to work.
Footloose receives 1.5/5