Film review: Footloose

Ariel (Julianne Hough, centre), and Ren (Kenny Wormald), right, tear down the bible-thumping Establishment of the 21st century by doing a bit of line dancing  in Craig Brewer's Footloose
Ariel (Julianne Hough, centre), and Ren (Kenny Wormald), right, tear down the bible-thumping Establishment of the 21st century by doing a bit of line dancing in Craig Brewer's Footloose
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By no means a classic, the original Kevin Bacon vehicle was at least made with passion and originality, but this too-faithful remake doesn’t have anything to justify it

Footloose (12A) *

Directed by: Craig Brewer

Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Miles Teller, Andie MacDowell

FIRST released in 1984, the original Footloose was a slightly cheesy but surprisingly well-made tale of mild youthful rebellion that has endured over the years thanks to better-than-necessary performances, solid direction and a maddeningly infectious contemporary pop soundtrack. Launching the careers of Kevin Bacon, Chris Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lori Singer – and boosted by genuinely good supporting turns from John Lithgow and Diane Wiest, it has never been a candidate for greatness, but its shelf-life is proof that when frivolous pop films are made with genuine care and attention to detail, they can withstand the ravages of time.

That’s not to say it hasn’t dated. Some of its most memorable moments – and yes, I mean the bizarre rage dancing that Bacon’s hot-stepping rebel indulged in when the pressures of his new bible-belt existence got too much for him – live on in campy infamy. But the way veteran director Herbert Ross got the cast to interact in a loose, naturalistic way has ensured the film remains eminently watchable, even without rose-tinted glasses.

All of which makes the case for a reboot thoroughly redundant, especially one as pointlessly slavish to the original as this new version is. Updated to the present day, but retaining the music, plot beats, many of the key lines, even lead character Ren’s rusting yellow VW Beetle, the new Footloose is a strange-looking facsimile that doesn’t even have the sense to approach the material with the kind of Glee-style ironic distance that would haven given its story – set in a small town where teenagers are effectively banned from listening to music and dancing – a fighting chance of working in an internet-driven age where music is freely available to anyone with a mobile phone.

Instead, the new film, which has been directed by Craig Brewer, who made the horribly misogynistic Sundance hit Hustle & Flow, is weirdly anachronistic. On the one hand, it features scenes in which kids sate their appetite for illicit dancing by doing lots of crumping and sexed-up pole dancing moves to bootlegged hip-hop CDs, on the other it wants us to believe that teenagers like nothing better than knocking back a few beers and getting down to some Kenny Loggins. In other words, it seems torn by a desire to appeal to every contemporary teenager’s rebellious side, but remains too scared to cut loose from the things that made the original appeal to their parents. The end result is too bland to really work for either demographic and will more likely find favour with fans of the recent stage productions.

That’s typified by the casting of Kenny Wormald in the Bacon role. A dancer by trade whose dramatic abilities don’t yet merit a dancer-turned-actor prefix, Wormald is the kind of clean-cut, asexual, boy-band pretty lead perfectly suited for musical theatre but wholly inappropriate as a movie rebel ready to shake up the bible-thumping traditions of his new home. His cliché-ridden 1950s rebel posturing – leather jacket, sunglasses, quiff haircut, big-city attitude – merely accentuate how lacking in danger his take on Ren MacCormack really is. Though Bacon almost lost out on the role originally because studio executive Dawn Steele famously didn’t think he was “f***able”, his vampiric smile and David Bowie haircut at least give him an edge that made it easy to believe parents might be a little wary of letting him date their daughters.

Wormald, on the other hand, is about as threatening as a teddy bear, which is a problem given the plot requires him to challenge the music-hating adults of Bomont, particularly the angry minister (played by Dennis Quaid) who has had the town on lockdown since his son died in a car crash on the way home from a dance a few years earlier. Because the new film needs to justify its existence, it kicks off by dramatising this incident, but it’s entirely extraneous to proceedings, much like the amped-up melodramatic backstory Ren has suddenly been saddled with to justify his sudden arrival.

What follows is pretty much a step-by-step run-through of the original as dance fan Ren falls for the minister’s rebellious daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) while trying to overturn the town’s ban on boogying. Fans might like to know that Wormald gets to do a warehouse rage-dance that is even more mindboggling than Bacon’s (not least because it’s done to the strains of The White Stripes’ Catch Hell Blues) and that Miles Teller, cast as his best friend Willard, does a good impression of the young Chris Penn, but it’s hard to see how anyone who grew up with Footloose will warm to this reheat or why teens weaned on the likes of Step Up would even care. In the end, the fact that the film works in a version of Denise Williams’s Let’s Hear it for the Boy via a karaoke machine says it all.