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Review: 'Footloose' tries a new dance step

The original "Footloose" may have had an absurd premise and not even a tacit acknowledgement of the existence of people any color besides white, but it was an '80s movie, after all.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The original "Footloose" may have had an absurd premise and not even a tacit acknowledgement of the existence of people any color besides white, but it was an '80s movie, after all.

Its datedness — and director Herbert Ross's great, toe-tapping title sequence — is part of its kitschy charm. The cast, too, was exceptionally winning: Kevin Bacon as the upturned-collar out-of-towner, a radiant Lori Singer as the rebellious preacher's daughter, Chris Penn as the hayseed sidekick.

Why anyone should bother to remake it is an interesting question. It certainly could be substantially improved upon, but isn't that kind of like trying to build a better legwarmer?

From a monetary perspective (which is surely a dominant one here), this new "Footloose" situates the movie in the time of "Step Up" and the like. (The original followed the "Flashdance" craze.) From director Craig Brewer's point of view, the purpose is to add a little grit and a modicum of plausibility, while updating the teen rebellion of "Footloose" to a new generation who might not think playing chicken on tractors is high entertainment.

There's the ring of remix right from the get-go, with a DJ yelling "Check one, two" over Kenny Loggins' title track.

Kenny Wormald, a former back-up dancer for Justin Timberlake, slides into Bacon's dance shoes as Ren MacCormack. Wormald's MacCormack hails from Boston, not Chicago, and brings a Southie accent. Wormald is considerably better on his feet than Bacon, who needed dancing doubles.

Brewer, the talented Memphis director of "Hustle & Flow" and "Black Snake Moan," reprises much of the original "Footloose," scene for scene, sometimes shot for shot. But he also expands the film's world, fleshing out backstories and adding a little humor. He's shifted it to the South and made things sweatier.

Ren is shunned as an outsider in the small town of Bomont, Ga., where a recent tragedy has made the town clamp down on teenagers, even outlawing dancing. Ren quickly feels himself squeezed by small-mindedness, and he seeks release like any other teenager would: by furiously dancing in empty warehouses.

He soon sets his sights on Ariel (Julianne Hough), the daughter of the town preacher (Dennis Quaid, taking John Lithgow's place) and his wife (Andie MacDowell, in a step down from Dianne Wiest). Hough, also a dancing pro and multiple winner on "Dancing With the Stars," resembles the younger sister of Jennifer Aniston. Spending much of the film strutting in boots, she brings more sexiness to the movie.

The best casting decision is Miles Teller as Willard, the local who befriends Ren and gets the pleasure of the film's trademark dance-lesson montage. The gangly and excellent Ray McKinnon, as Ren's uncle, is also a considerable addition.

The two versions of "Footloose" are ultimately a tale of casting. In the original, a thoroughly likeable ensemble created a cheesy kind of movie magic out of paltry, laughable material. Brewer has made a better, more colorful film, but his cast isn't nearly as memorable.

The performances (excepting Teller's) are a paler shade of the original, and there's considerably less chemistry to go around. Wormald and Hough are both handsome and good on the dance floor, but they come across more like teen stars in training than representations of real youth angst.

Speaking of angst, one question: Line dancing? Brewer has added several updated dance sequences, including hip-hop and country line-dancing scenes. Yes, that wild, sinful expression of individuality known as country line dancing.

These kids may have better technique, but they don't have the moves.

"Footloose," a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language. Running time: 113 minutes. Two stars out of four.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G — General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.