Enough about premaquels. How about a good old fashioned straight up remake? Kinda refreshing!
I guess I never saw the original FOOTLOOSE before, ’cause I always thought it was about a town where you’re not allowed to dance because they’re real religious. In this remake by Craig Brewer (yes, HUSTLE AND FLOW, BLACK SNAKE MOAN Craig Brewer) the ban happens in response to a great tragedy, when five promising high school teenagers are killed in a head-on collision after a dance. In other words, this movie is about the Patriot Act.
Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) is the James Deanian hero who comes back to little Bomont, Georgia to live with his uncle (Ray McKinnon) after the death of his mother. He’s from Boston, has an intermittent accent and half-joking disdain for redneck lifestyles. He knows how to fix a car engine, likes to slick his hair back real cool, and is an experienced dancer and gymnast (whuh!?). He quickly spots the Megan Foxian, Daisy-Duke wearing town sexpot Ariel (Julianne Hough), who we know has only been this way since her brother died 3 years ago in that accident. Her daddy (Dennis Quaid) is the pastor of the Presbyterian church and the architect of the dance ban. She does a credible job of acting out to get her father’s attention without entirely losing sympathy.
Wormald doesn’t light the screen on fire or anything, but I don’t know. He didn’t let it get cold. I liked him. He’s a cool teen hero character because he gets to have it both ways: he’s the rebel and the good kid. He gets profiled as a “city boy,” he has to appear in court for playing Quiet Riot too loud in his car, and everyone decides he’s a druggie because he won’t narc out the guy that tried to hand him a joint in the library. But actually he’s totally clean – he brags about years of piss testing on the gymnastics squad – and gains respect by repeatedly turning down Ariel’s advances. He knows she’s all over him to piss off her boyfriend or her dad. He waits until she can be all over him for him.
One of the first signs that the movie is gonna actually be good is Quaid’s emotional speech about the tragic accident and the need to protect the children. He doesn’t play this as a bad guy, or even just kind of a jerk. He’s genuinely trying to do the right thing. He’s not even really a strict father. There are multiple incidents of trying to be a modern, understanding dad. When his daughter lies in order to get to spend the night at her friend’s house he seems torn, like “I don’t know, should we let her?” And he decides yes. He’s not the Taliban.
I think what feels so fresh about this (even though it’s a remake) is that it steers clear of the easiest stereotypes known to Hollywood. There’s plenty of opportunity for hateful Bible-thumping villainy, but it never happens. Brewer treats the church entirely as well-meaning, nice people. Only at the end, when Quaid testifies that he thinks modern music is ungodly, does it seem a little forced. But even then he comes across as a prudish guy advocating for his opinion, not a zealot trying to judge everybody else for not agreeing.
Same goes for other authority figures who are usually one-dimensional in this type of movie, including the chief of police and the principal. They don’t trust Ren but they do seem sympathetic toward him and sincere about trying to do the right thing.
Brewer also doesn’t use any of the go-to cliches about the South, like making the bad guys racist. In fact the school seems to be primarily black, and all the kids like going to a black-run drive-in theater where they’re secretly allowed to “get crunk” listening to bootleg rap CDs.
It’s also a movie full of likable, unpolished supporting characters. An actor I never heard of before, Miles Teller, steals the movie as Ren’s buddy Willard. They become friends after they bump into each other in the hall, get in an argument about it and then can’t help but laugh at each other’s clever insults. Also I liked Ren’s uncle and his goofy little cousins. It’s full of small characters that are colorful but feel real.
I guess Brewer thought the soundtrack was really important to the original movie so he used new versions of the same songs. Mostly countrified. They didn’t, like, add Li’l Wayne to all of them. They seemed okay to me, but I’m not in any way precious about the old versions. I was disappointed that they did not get into the concept of Sunday shoes, and how they wear different shoes on Sundays, and then when they start dancing they change from the Sunday shoes to the Monday through Friday shoes in defiance of God. It seemed like they just wore boots or Chuck Taylors. Also it never explained who Louise, Jack and Milo are.
It’s funny ’cause it feels more nuanced and true to life than you expect for a movie like this, but then when they start dancing it turns ridiculous. How did this many kids learn to dance this good and this synchronized? It’s not quite the cartoon dimension where the STEP UP saga takes place, but it’s pretty far-fetched. Every dance situation is a full-fledged dance number, whether at the drive-in, a country line-dancing place or just a kegger. My favorite is when he can’t take the pressure of this town anymore so he tears his VW Bug into an abandoned warehouse, gets out and performs a dance, gymnastics and chain-swinging tirade to let it all out. That’s probly what I would do too.
Also there’s a part where they have a demolition derby in school buses that end up in flames. Everybody’s okay, but jesus. You think you got the teens on lockdown, Pastor? You should keep an eye on the race track.
I’m not saying this is as good as HUSTLE & FLOW, but it’s an infectiously likable movie that I don’t think another director could’ve done nearly as well. Brewer loves people, the South, atmosphere, rhythm, dirt and sweat. See, it really made sense when they replaced THIS IS IT/HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’s Kenny Ortega to get someone “grittier.” He knew what he was doing.
And it takes the nice message of the original and shows us that it’s relevant today. You might think it’s silly that I mentioned the Patriot Act in my opening paragraph, and obviously this is not some preachy movie about the erosion of our civil liberties. But I’m not kidding, that really is at the core of what the movie is about. They even have a joke about “the terrorists won” if they can’t do what they want, and it’s a funny comment for a character to make but also a hint at the subtext of the movie. It’s the idea that yes, bad things happen, but that doesn’t mean you gotta throw away the things that make life great in order to prevent them from happening again. That means our constitutional rights, it also means dancing and doing flips and listening to Quiet Riot in the car and enjoying girl’s butts. I implore all Americans and free citizens of the world to do what these kids do in the movie: study your local laws, and change them if need be, to preserve everybody’s fundamental right to cut loose (specifically footloose).