To understand my relationship with the original Footloose
may help to explain why Craig Brewer's remake has been one of my most anticipated of the Fall 2011 cinematic releases.
The original Footloose,
as most of you likely know, was released in 1984 and starred Kevin Bacon in the lead in what continues to be one of his most popular and memorable roles. The $8 million film went on to snag a cumulative box-office of just over $80 million, while its soundtrack could be heard on the radio for months. Since that time, Footloose
has also become a hit Broadway musical and Bacon has become one of America's most reliable actors.
It was a couple years after the release of Footloose,
a film that I adored, that I found myself hospitalized and facing the amputation of my left foot following a fall off a stage during a dress rehearsal for the musical "Working," where this paraplegic on crutches had actually been cast as the dancing tie salesman named Ralph Werner. Because of my already existing disability, spina bifida, my injury would not heal and eventually amputation became the only option.
Walking had always been a source of pride for me, having been born with a birth defect that left many in wheelchairs. The fact that dancing was the last thing I did with my feet remains one of those true life highlights. In keeping with my always offbeat sense of humor and off-kilter coping skills, I had one request of my physician ... play the song "Footloose" in the operating room as I'm going under.
Needless to say, I got a very strange look from my physician.
As I was wheeled into the operating the next morning, I began to psychologically prepare for life without a limb when I heard those familiar opening notes and, before going under, I sang out "Everybody cut footloose."
There's something weird and funny and awkward about my story, a story that will forever tie a traumatic event in my life to the weird and funny and awkwardly funny original Footloose. Footloose
wasn't a brilliant film, but it was the right film for me at the right time in my life.
is a remake of that 1984 film that is a treasured part of my personal history. It's not a sequel, a prequel or any other quel. As directed by Craig Brewer and written by Brewer along with original scribe Dean Pitchford, Footloose
is a more polished, slightly edgier, slightly sexier and infinitely more stylish film than its predecessor with a greater emphasis on quality dancing and a bit more emotional depth.
The story, for the most part, remains the same.
Ren (Kenny Wormald, a former Justin Timberlake back-up dancer who played Ren on Broadway) is a big city boy transplanted to the small Southern town of Bomont following the death of his mother. Bomont is reeling itself following the deaths of five promising high school students in a car wreck three years earlier. Believing the accident to have been triggered by carelessness caused by rock music and dancing, Rev. Moore (Dennis Quaid taking over the John Lithgow role) has led the town council in outlawing the music and dancing within the community's confines. It's not long before Ren is pulled over for playing his music too loud, which leads to quite a bit of attention from Rev. Moore's rebellious daughter Ariel (Dancing With the Stars'
Julianne Hough taking over for Lori Singer) and the town's bullies including Ariel's bad-boy boyfriend Chuck Cranston (Patrick John Flueger), a modest variation from the original film.
You likely know the rest of the story, with Ren leading a campaign to reverse the ban on dancing because, well, youth need to dance and they're going to do it anyway. Ya know?
If you weren't a fan of the original Footloose,
then the only likely way you'll appreciate this remake is if you find yourself obsessed with the Step Up
films or any of Hollywood's other recent stylized dance flicks. The original Footloose
and its director, Herb Ross, seemed to recognize that the entire scenario was a bit absurd and sort of celebrated its corniness with an innocence and uncontrolled glee that was infectious. There wasn't a professional dancer in the cast, but there was something joyous about seeing these young people dancing for the sheer joy of dancing even if neither Bacon nor Singer actually resembled high school students.
In this remake, that corniness and camp is replaced by teenage angst and edgier music with more obviously choreographed dance routines that will please some while turning off most Footloose
loyalists. The age problem remains the same, with neither Wormald nor Hough coming close to resembling high school students (Hough, in particular, could almost qualify as a Mrs. Robinson here). They play their characters just fine, though Wormald lacks Bacon's screen presence despite having a more emotionally complex role here. Miles Teller, who was so brilliant in last year's Oscar-nominated Rabbit Hole,
takes over the role of the lovably awkward Willard from the late Chris Penn and steals practically every scene he's in.
As a long-time devotee of John Lithgow, it's almost painful to acknowledge that Dennis Quaid does add an extra spark to the role of Rev. Moore. Quaid adds a poignancy to the role that makes you understand that he's a grieving father who means well despite his generally misguided actions. Andie MacDowell is fine as his wife.
Several of the original film's songs return here including the title track, now by country star Blake Shelton), along with "Let's Hear It For the Boy," "Holding Out For a Hero," and "Almost Paradise." New tracks are contributed by Zac Brown, Smashing Pumpkins, Cee-Lo and a few other newbies who help to reinforce that this is an edgier, updated flick.
One gets the sense that if this were a stand-alone film with no predecessor as a reference point, it would be regarded much more positively. While it may lack many of the qualities that made the first film a mildly unexpected hit, this Footloose
is spirited, sincere and occasionally quite exciting (Though a late fight in the film feels a tad excessive given the generally celebratory spirit of the film). Far more successful than this weekend's other 80's retread, this Footloose
may not join me in the operating room should I lose another limb but, then again, I've already filmed my own sequel and become Footless.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic