I suppose I should start this review by stating that I have not seen the original Footloose. It’s a clichéd beginning to a review for the remake but I want to let readers know where I’m coming from. I know about the original’s obtuse popularity, I know the film helped Kevin Bacon project further into the acting world and I’m familiar with the story concerning an outsider trying to open the eyes of a mourning Reverend. In fact, overhearing fans of the original, this was their first skepticism. How could a story about a small town banning dancing and loud rock and roll music work in a modern day world? Being an outsider, I’m unsure as to how the film stuck to the original content. What I do know is that Director Craig Brewer’s film does make the story convincing; I didn’t have a problem with it taking place in present time.
That being said, the film is flawed and it isn’t very good which is hard to fathom knowing and loving the director’s earlier work, Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. The major problem with Footloose is that it seems lesser than. It never holds its own and it feels like it’s trying too hard to please all sorts of camps. Even as an outsider to the film, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a lot of nervous people try to emulate something that was captured in an earlier work and never quite pulling it off.
The story that the film tries so hard to adapt is the tale of Ren McCormack, played by newcomer Kenny Wormald. After a tragic event, Ren decides to move from the big city of Boston to stay with his uncle Wes, played by Ray McKinnon, and his aunt Lulu, played by Kim Dickens. The country life of Bomont, Utah is a sharp change for the city boy but after completing the job of repairing a broken car and meeting some of the community including schoolmate Willard, played by a scene stealing Miles Teller, the style has quickly grown on him.
However, Ren quickly learns about the small town’s history. Even since a saddening car accident involving the passing of Reverend Shaw Moore’s son, a ban has been placed on the town stating that dancing is illegal as well as the playing of loud music. Rev. Moore, played by Dennis Quaid, has also helped place a curfew for the teenagers living in Bomont. This ban is hard for Ren to understand since the incident took place years and years ago. Determined, Ren soon becomes friends with the Reverend’s daughter Ariel, played by Julianne Hough, and begins to conjure up a way he can get the ban abolished.
The young ensemble aren’t exactly a band of terribly unnatural new actors. In fact, the younger actors are very charismatic for the most part and have great chemistry with one another. McCormack and Hough are attractive stars and are able to play off each other nicely; although McCormack’s performance is awfully and annoyingly showy. As stated before, Teller frequently steals the spotlight with his charming country boy persona and his quick line delivery. At times, he actually resembles a young Alan Ruck and would make a great Cameron in a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remake (but I don’t want a remake for that film anytime soon).
The older cast does a reasonable job as well except some are underused. Quaid is effective as the overprotective Father of Ariel. We sense why he wants to keep her safe and why he’s struggling with his own issues after the death of his only son. Andie MacDowell plays the role of Shaw’s wife but the audience keeps on forgetting since MacDowell’s acting chops are only put to good use during the last third of the movie. By then, it’s too late to make that character personable. McKinnon and Dickens are given more screen time but still, we long for more of their characters.
As mentioned, Brewer is in the director’s chair. Footloose marks the first misstep in the director’s filmography. Brewer was actually the one noteworthy reason as to why I was anticipating Footloose because of how the film takes place in the South. In the film Black Snake Moan, Brewer introduces us to the character of the blues crooning Lazarus, played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson. During one scene in Black Snake Moan, Jackson is playing and singing a version of Stack-O-Lee on his guitar while everyone dances in a club. The mood is set just right with this scene with dancers slowly grinding on each other and slow motion sequences making the scene slightly sensual. As a movie goer, you feel like your amidst the crowd because of how this scene is shot and how you have an intimate feel of how hot that environment due to everyone being drenched in sweat.
Smash cut to Footloose and none of that intimacy or authenticity is here. It’s as if Brewer’s visions of the South have been held under the “studio steam press”. Now, everything is “prettier” & “more accessible” in order to please younger audiences. I suppose if the film is rated PG, some aspects have to be toned down but that doesn’t mean for the setting to be neutered altogether.
The dance sequences are handled haphazardly as well. It’s even more of a sad surprise to see that Brewer is using the same cinematographer that worked on his two previous films. Dances are either shot too close or seem unfocused on grander scales. It’s as if the downgrading to a younger audience has crippled Brewer and cinematographer Vincent’s abilities to showcase their wonderful talents.
Overall though, the film feels like it never amounts to what it’s aiming for. Adding to that, the film is aiming for the wrong goal. Like most remakes, the film shouldn’t be trying to live up to something because that’s a big obstacle to overcome that is quite rarely pulled off. Instead, Footloose should’ve taken similar elements and become something that could stand alone. Because it never reaches that farfetched mistaken goal, it always feels like an inferior project; similar to a mundane school production.