Directed by: Craig Brewer
Written by: Dean Pitchford and Craig Brewer
Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Miles Teller, Patrick John Flueger, and Andie MacDowell
Have you ever heard a cover of a song you liked, by a band you liked, but the end result wasn’t as stellar or refreshingly original as you’d hoped? Sadly, that’s how I feel about director Craig Brewer’s version of FOOTLOOSE. It may share a lot of the same elements as the original but it’s devoid of that fun and feeling.
We’ve traded Bomont, Colorado for Bomont, Georgia in this update, adding in some of that Southern flavor that Brewer is known for. The film opens on a grabber of a car crash that’s talked about but not shown in the original. Mourning the loss of the kids, the town councilman, Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) outlaws dancing which – as we all know – is the gateway to boozin’ and sinnin’! Flash forward three years later as Ren McCormick (newcomer Kenny Wormald) steps off the bus from Boston, all “Yankee sarcasm,” Ray Bans, and swagger. You know he’s going to be the modern change this town so dearly needs. Recently orphaned, he’s come to Bomont to live with his Aunt and Uncle. Naturally he sticks out like a sore thumb and doesn’t know the town’s strict rules. Soon he’s introduced to Ariel (Julianne Hough), the preacher’s daughter who’s been stuck in rebellion mode since the death of her brother in the car crash. She has a taste for bad boys and bad behavior. Not only does she dress suggestively, she’s dating scummy race car driver Chuck (Patrick John Flueger), but is quickly swept away by Ren’s sweet dancefloor skills. He also meets Willard (Miles Teller), his soon-to-be best friend who is equal parts endearing and dumb. It’s not long before Ren is butting heads with the town’s establishment and championing the cause of “let the kids dance.”
My whole stance on remakes (as well as song covers) is that if you are going to remake something as beloved as an original, you need to make it your own in clever and interesting ways. Otherwise, what’s the point? While I don’t think the original is a perfect film by any means, it’s better than what we are being offered here. It feels slice-of-life and organic. And even though the remake is only five minutes longer than the original, it feels endless. Couldn’t Ariel and Ren have bonded over the deaths of their loved ones? Couldn’t the father-daughter relationship be explored with a little more poignancy? There are loads of “callbacks” to the original – the iconic yellow VW Bug, the music, the clothes, camera shots, dance moves, and 75% of the dialogue – but it feels more like an unimaginative retread than a loving homage. Though Brewer changed the location and a word or two, perhaps trying to infuse his version with a dirtier, grittier Southern feel, the song remains the same.
Nothing new Brewer adds carries any kind of weight, and his cuts are to the film’s detriment. In the original, the town’s overly religious mindset was claustrophobic and stifling. You could feel that Ren’s only outlet to blow off steam was to dance it out. Stakes were also raised when Ren’s Aunt and Uncle were threatened by the local townsfolk fearful of change. However, in the remake, with the exception of Carl returning to settle his scores with his fists, there are no imminent threats and no dramatic meatiness. Dennis Quaid’s Rev. Moore is far less villainous than John Lithgow’s version. Quaid comes across as a slightly apathetic, unobservant father as compared to the original’s Rev. Moore, who is more of a foreboding, fleshed out presence.
I will concede there are a few highlights in this remake. Wormald can dance and proves he can carry a film. Teller is fantastic as his best friend. He gives a great performance equal to Chris Penn who originated the role. They both light up the screen when sharing scenes together. The “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” sequence when Ren teaches Willard to dance with the aid of Bomont’s version of “Sparklemotion,” is adorably cute (albeit slightly cloying). And the music is still as fantastic as ever.
Why this new version should turn out to be so surprisingly bland is beyond me. I really wish I would have enjoyed it more than I did. With a little more fancy footwork, this could have danced its way into my heart. You can cut this remake loose.