I’m a huge fan of the original 1984 Footloose – I’ve memorized dialogue, bought the soundtrack in three different formats (and converted the CD to a fourth format), owned the LaserDisc, VHS, and two different versions of the DVD.  When I catch this movie on HBO, I always take a cell phone shot and send it to my sisters, who so fervently love this movie as well.  Given Hollywood’s penchant for remakes, why am I not surprised that Footloose has been remade?  This is a goldmine in which everyone should have invested, because:
1)  You’ll get the money from the adults (who were kids when the original came out) who might have a morbid curiosity as to how today’s filmmakers would treat such a hallowed property.
2)  You’ll get money from them bringing their kids.
3)  You’ll get money from everyone who’s responsible for the proliferation of the highly-rated musical television shows and films that have popped up right alongside the current deluge of remakes.

That said, here’s how I saw the new remake of Footloose: I went in with an open mind, but I wanted to hate it.  As oxymoronic as that sounds, it was the truth.  I would take whatever they threw at me, whether they spat on the memories of a rabid fan or not.  Really, I wanted to hate it, if only to prove that the lack of imagination in Hollywood has caused the movie studios to make an unforgivable mistake by sullying the reputation and legacy of a great 80s movie.

Please note: I have stated a certain phrase above twice.  “I wanted to hate it.”  I didn’t.

In fact, I downright enjoyed myself; I had a smile on my face and applauded at the end.
Except for exactly two small quibbles and one gigantic, glaring “HELL NO” moment, co-writer/director Craig Brewer’s Footloose is a great example of the way remakes should be done, if they’re to be done at all.  With a loving eye and a view to not alienate fans like myself, Brewer takes the best things about Dean Pitchford’s 1984 screenplay, throws in some modern sass and grit, and gives us a very pleasant hour and 53 minutes.  Some of the scenes in Brewer’s Footloose are shot-for-shot homages to the original; others have been reinvented and contextualized, providing a fresh take on familiar images.

It starts with the studio logos, before we even see one filmed shot – we hear a party DJ start spinning up Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose”, quickly accompanied by various shots of kids dancing at a post-football game victory party.  Instantly, the camera moves from face shots to feet doing dance steps – you can’t remake Footloose without having the dancing feet in the opening credits.  Brewer wittily improves upon this iconic opening, providing a nice setup and foretelling of what he managed to do with this movie.  Throughout its running time, we see visual callbacks to the original – Ariel Moore’s red boots, the green tractor from Chuck Cranston’s game of Chicken, Ren McCormack’s yellow VW Bug, Willard’s blue cowboy shirt, among many others – and we hear the songs that rang out over the airwaves in our youth.  Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” is heard in its entirety and in its exact same context; with Brewer’s spin, it’s like watching Willard (the late Chris Penn) learn how to dance for the first time.

But it’s not the same cast, and this is where the original film has the edge over the remake.  The 1984 performances were so filled with depth and gravitas that one could really feel the difficulty with which Reverend Moore (John Lithgow) gave his final sermon; one could get behind Ren (Kevin Bacon) as he used the Bible to make his case for abolishing the laws concerning music and public dancing.  And those are my only two small quibbles about the remake: neither Kenny Wormald nor Dennis Quaid, in their respective roles of Ren McCormack and Reverend Shaw Moore, want to make their portrayals just another carbon copy, but lose all vestige of real emotion.  Instead, a lot of the time, I felt like they were just saying their lines so they could get to the next scene quickly.  While I can appreciate why they chose to play their characters they way they did, this was the most difficult part of the movie for me to stomach – that we didn’t get that weight or the passion that was made most palpable in 1984.  It was almost as if director Brewer wanted them to be so different that he nudged them almost 180° away from their 1984 counterparts.  Was it the right step?  I don’t know, but I’d like to watch this movie again to find out.

The rest of the cast is surprisingly, for lack of a better term, stunning.  Julianne Hough, recently of Dancing With The Stars and last year’s musical Burlesque, breathes a new personality into Ariel – she’s a girl who wants to grow up so fast that she doesn’t know why she does the things she does.  But the real treat is Miles Teller’s take on Willard Hewitt; with a chemical makeup of what looks to be hormones, humor and redneck common sense, Teller steals the movie from underneath Wormald and Hough to the point where you wished for more scenes with him.

What would Footloose be without its music?  Mega-favorites “Footloose”, “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”, “Dancing In the Sheets” and “Holding Out For a Hero” are all represented, with 3 of those songs being spirited reproductions of their originals.  However, singer Ella Mae Bowen’s approach to covering “Holding Out For a Hero” is abominable.  Taking a powerful anthem and turning it into a whimpering, voice-cracking ballad with no memorable hook or stable melody is the only insult I think this film commits, only serving to back a quieter scene with something old fans would recognize.  The new songs written for the remake are mostly country pop, with Big & Rich’s “Fake ID” being one of the more enjoyable and memorable of the new batch.

As a fan of the original 1984 Footloose, I have to say that Craig Brewer succeeded in updating a treasured 80s movie.  He didn’t only update and upgrade it for old fans like me; he wanted to bring the story to an entirely new generation of waiting fans.  And as a fan of movies in general, I will definitely be watching this again – either in the theaters, or with the DVD of the remake sitting side-by-side with its 1984 brother.


Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa

1 Comment

  • Great review! I am a huge fan of the original as well and was actually impressed by the trailer I saw for the remake over the summer. It looked to me like it had the same energy and charm, just modernized. I’m glad to hear that it delivers.

    I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to catch it in theaters, but I will definitely try a little harder now!

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