As a remake of a highly-popular film in the same cultural category as Flashdance and Dirty Dancing, the updated Footloose has a great deal to live up to. It then comes across as a pleasant surprise that director Craig Brewer, known best for Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan, doesn’t simply rehash the old story and slap in modern culture, and neither does it forget its roots. Though cynicism and disdain may be one’s initial reaction, what you’d really find here is an upbeat tale that is best enjoyed if you loosen, but not forget your expectations.
As the opening credits accompany the buoyant tune that shares its namesake with the film and shots of dancing, swinging feet along the floor of a festive party, it’s clear that there are still quite a few nods to the original film. This mood takes an abrupt change when four high-school teens in the podunk town of Bomont, GA take an ill-fated car drive across a dark bridge, which unbalances the humors of the entire town. Leading the call for new safety laws is Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), with a personal stake in the issue, which culminates in severe restrictions on public dancing and music through the town while his wife Vi (Andie MacDowell) and daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) can do little but remain quiet.
Skipping ahead several years, we find newcomer Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) arriving from bustling Boston to the sleepy town of Bomont, settling with in his aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, we find that Ariel has gone far and beyond the rebellious phase with a need for danger and a brash boyfriend several years her senior. Ren’s unenviable task of settling into an unfamiliar community quickly has him butting heads with the town authority and other sorts of jerks, but inevitably he and Ariel hit it off after a standoffish spell.
Much of the story isn’t a terrible surprise, fitting right into the archetype of ‘defiant newcomer and spunky town sweetheart fall for one another,’ but the execution is surprisingly well-done. The performances are not dull or overdone except in a few cases such as Ren’s friend Willard (Miles Teller), though even his act as a typical ‘good ole boy’ gets a few laughs for the right reasons. The events in the movie closely mirror the original, though with some added twists for dramatic effect and a few instances where they attempt to one-up the original, such as substituting the tractor race scene with modded school buses or a few brawl scenes.
As for the dance sequences, they are especially fun to watch and performed in a manner that isn’t at terribly kitschy or over the top. These scenes are energetic, well-timed and easy to get caught up in, and a pleasant bonus is that the soundtrack covers a wide range of musical styles from modern hip-hop and rock, over to upbeat country and 80s pop.
That all being said, there are also numerous points where the film works and doesn’t work in attempting to connect fans with the original film. The yellow VW Bug and Ren’s retro choice of attire for instance seem to fit in well enough, but then moments such as his speech to the town council are clear throwbacks that are a little out of place.
The modern interpretation of this culturally-iconic dance film isn’t quite at the level where it’s going to win accolades, but Brewer’s sense of pacing, cinematography and writing makes Footloose an enjoyable film to watch and have fun with. It may not please viewers who are entrenched in their opinions of the original, but ultimately Brewer and the cast makes this film its own artifact instead of a carbon copy.