Directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan), Footloose is less a remake than an update of the 1984 original film. Both films colorfully mine the same cheesy material, but what made the original movie so successful, aside from the chart-topping soundtrack and dance sequences, was the effective use of melodrama. There are tender moments in the 1984 Footloose, like when the preacher realizes the error of his ways and gives into the idea of a high school dance, but even though certain key scenes are carried forward into the 2011 version, they don’t retain the same impact.
When hipster Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) steps off a Greyhound bus from Boston and wanders into the small Georgia town of Bomont, trouble stalks him. He’s just lost his mother to cancer, and his father has flown the coop. That’s left Ren in the care of his Uncle Wes (Ray McKinnon) and Aunt Lulu (Kim Dickens), who are doing the best they can to raise their daughters in a struggling economy. Wes runs a used car lot in Bomont and finds Ren a job in a cotton warehouse, but money problems are the least of his worries.
After getting an old VW Beetle running, Ren fashions an iPod to the radio system in the car and goes for a joy ride. Quiet Riot blasts from the vehicle that he’s transformed into some kind of rolling speaker. A deputy pulls him over and gives him a ticket for playing his music too loud. Welcome to Bomont—the town where rock ’n’ roll and dancing have been all but banned. Well, Ren knows that’s gotta change.
Channeling his best sensitive-but-rebellious James Dean, Ren becomes the object of much attention at the local high school. His Boston brogue instantly sets him apart in the southern town, but his good looks and rebel image earn him a pass. Soon, he’s taken with the local bad girl, the preacher’s daughter, named Ariel (Julianne Hough). This makes her race car-driving boyfriend jealous and puts Ren in the hot seat. But problems with love Ren can handle—it’s not being able to cut footloose and kick off his Sunday shoes that’s got him down. The boy’s gotta dance.
Fans of the original film will remember that at one point, Ren challenges the town ordinance against dancing by quoting from the Bible. It is an effective scene, retained in the latest incarnation, though the new version will probably work better for those unfamiliar with the original. Other scenes are missing altogether. Gone is the telling sequence where the preacher (played in the original by John Lithgow) discovers townsfolk burning books. (He’s appalled and expresses his dismay perfectly.) Overall, it was a bit corny, but the original, like the remake, is a musical satire. In this guise, the latest Footloose almost gets away with numerous stereotypes and awkward moments. The sentiment in both movies is cheap but works, at least to some degree, on a metaphorical level.
Just as in the original film, Ren has his Flashdance moment in an abandoned warehouse and later goes toe-to-toe with Ariel’s abusive ex-boyfriend. The story is essentially the same but updated with fresh faces and new takes on the old tunes. (The Kenny Loggins title hit gets a country redo by Blake Shelton.) Ultimately, the new Footloose is still a good deal of fun, if overly familiar and utterly cheesy.