For all those up-in-arms over Hollywood’s audacity in remaking the 1984 “classic” Footloose, you can sleep easy in the knowledge that this new version is perfectly faithful to its predecessor. At the same time, that might be the biggest issue with Footloose—that it’s Footloose all over again. Director Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan)—building upon Dean Pitchford’s original screenplay—has mostly modernized Footloose for a new generation, but he’s also molded it to his own worldview. This is largely a good thing, as Brewer may be the closest thing we have to a major Southern filmmaker at the moment.
This version follows the storyline of the original. Instead of Kevin Bacon, we get dancer Kenny Wormald as Ren MacCormack, a Boston teen who moves in with his uncle (Ray McKinnon) in a sleepy Georgia town. Once there, Ren learns that the town has forbidden teens from dancing, something that stems from a fatal car accident involving the son of the local preacher (Dennis Quaid). Ren soon gets involved with the preacher’s rebellious daughter (Julianne Hough, Burlesque), while he also fights to repeal the overbearing laws that affect the town’s teens.
This—and much more—stays the same in Brewer’s version, as he’s not so much remaking Footloose as putting on a revival of the film, a position he’s often stated in interviews. But while the plot remains intact, Brewer has put his own spin on Pitchford’s original script. The setting is very much Brewer’s South—or perhaps, what Brewer thinks the South should be. Yes, this is a less gritty, sweaty world than the one he showed us in Hustle & Flow (2005), but it still inhabits the same sphere. This is a modern and progressive South butting heads against an established and traditional South which is still steeped conservatism and oppressive religion. These two cultural visions begrudgingly learn to coexist over the film’s running time, much as they did in Black Snake Moan.
But even with Brewer’s distinctly Southern voice, the film is hamstrung by the fact that it’s still just a Footloose remake. There’s only so much one can do with the material—and Brewer does it all. The dance numbers have energy, even if Brewer seems more concerned with music than movement, and the cast is put to great use. (Wormald’s James Dean impression may limit him in other films, but it works within this kind of teen flick). The film sputters towards the end, with a climax that includes a wonky fight scene (existing largely to tie up loose ends that don’t really need tying) and a final dance sequence that’s only there because the genre convention requires it. As someone who’s never cared about the original Footloose, it’s obvious to me that Brewer had great respect for the film he was remaking. Although occasionally worthwhile on its own terms, Footloose may be most interesting as a part of Brewer’s distinctly Southern filmography. Rated PG-13 for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language.