‘Footloose’ not the guilty pleasure of ’80s original
The new “Footloose’’ remake begins with the truth. Heavy machinery should never be operated while Kenny Loggins is singing “everybody cut.’’ You could die. Some seniors in teeny Bomont, Ga., were Logginsing out while driving and wound up dead. Which is why, three years later, Bomont kids still can’t dance in public - it’s the law. But then some dude named Ren McCormick (Kenny Wormald) gets off a Greyhound from Boston, and, oh, that accent, that pompadour, those illegal moves! Ren says he used to be a competitive gymnast. Only if the pommel horse is the name of a Charlestown nightclub.
The movie, directed by Craig Brewer, paddles Wormald between shots that seem stolen, albeit with love, from the original, which, in 1984, made Kevin Bacon the John Travolta of the trough-and-tractor set. Brewer directs with a kind of humid regionalism, specializing in the dirtiest South - “Hustle & Flow’’ and the audacious, underseen sexorcism, “Black Snake Moan,’’ are his. He’s cleaner here, but the way girls in “Footloose’’ drop-pop-and-lock (and grind the air), that PG-13 rating turns R whenever a chaperone leaves to refill the nacho tray.
Watching the Rev. Dennis Quaid rail against the pleasures of body-rocking, you suspect that Brewer’s inherited the sense of sin in his first two films by watching the original version of this one. His regionalism also favors a cast that sounds like where his movie is from. So you get some believable accents from charismatic young actors like Ziah Colon; Miles Teller, who pockets the movie as Ren’s gangly new best friend; and Patrick John Flueger, as a stock-car driver who seems so mad that he can’t have Ren that he takes his sexual frustration out on Ariel (Julianne Hough), the reverend’s daughter, who’s as randy as the women in all of Brewer’s movies. If this were 1950-something - and at times, I’m not convinced that it’s not - Dorothy Malone would bring all her psychosexual force to play this role. But because there’s nothing underneath these characters and because, until she’s hysterical (like Malone), Hough isn’t much of an actress, her sashaying and spunk aggravate.
When Ren says that Ariel’s more important than the dance, your heart sinks. What will the kids in Garnett jerseys say when they see him fall for this Laker girl? Wormald, meanwhile, looks like 10 other actors, including a few who can dance as well as he does. But he seems and sounds like he comes from somewhere other than the Beverly Center. The movies need his authenticity, even if, here, some of those R’s sound dropped at gunpoint.
Beyond this, the fresh pleasures dry up. The original was reverent silliness, but it arrived during MTV’s ascent and, with a bunch of original songs, made the kids who saw it feel like something was happening. To them. For them. It was about the electric feeling of seeing kids, who didn’t look as though they could move, dance the gel out of their hair.
The director, Herbert Ross, was a Hollywood veteran and a choreographer, and you could tell he didn’t really care about the story. He took the job for the challenge of showing these young bodies responding to brand new music. He could feel music video changing the movie musical and wanted to capture that. I don’t know what Brewer wanted to capture. There are too many close-ups of stomping, swinging feet to suggest he cared about great choreography. And the best songs here are the original versions of the ones from the first movie. But this remake does something less organically fun. It makes kids nostalgic for something they never experienced.