1 hour, 53 minutes
When Kevin Bacon rolled into town in 1984’s “Footloose,” he was basically an unknown, having done quite a bit of TV, as well as few small parts in bigger films like “Friday the 13th” and “Animal House.” Little did he know that the wildly popular movie would catapult him into six degrees of stardom.
Could the same fate be in store for the 2011 Ren MacCormack, played by one Kenny Wormald? I tend to doubt it. And not just because Wormald isn’t half the actor Kevin Bacon is. Bacon had an advantage — he wasn’t competing with the memory of Kevin Bacon. That’s the tricky thing about remakes. We think we want to revisit the joy of a lost age, all wrapped up in a fancy new package. But nostalgia can be the harshest of critics.
Like the original, this new “Footloose” takes place in the small town of Bomont — a conservative, God-fearing community where kids can bowl or go to the movies, but the one thing they can’t do is dance. Unlike the original, however, the current film actually shows us an event only mentioned in the first. The tragedy that sparks the dancing ban takes place three years prior, when a group of high school seniors, drunk on cheap beer and high on energetic pop music, are killed in a head-on collision.
This is one of the most effective scenes of the movie and goes a long way toward making the emotion and desperation in the film seem believable. Fast-forward and you have a town full of self-satisfied adults and a bunch of repressed teens, bursting at the seams with hormonal energy, the kind only satisfied by, you know ... Dance!
Ren MacCormack arrives on the doorstep of his uncle, having just watched his mother succumb slowly to luekemia. He’s frustrated and out of place, but finds a cause worth fighting for when told of the town’s unusual ordinances. Also worth fighting for, maybe, is Ariel, the preacher’s daughter and running wild every chance she gets. Currently she’s running wild with Chuck Cranston, a grungy stock car driver with a quick temper and bad attitude. This is all unbeknownst to her father, played by Dennis Quaid in a performance that outshines every other in the film by a mile.
Rev. Moore is the driving force behind the “safety” ordinances, having been deeply scarred at the loss of his own son in the infamous crash. If Ren is to have a prayer of a chance at changing the law, or winning Ariel, a showdown with the good Reverend is inevitable.
Initially I had assumed this would be a bad movie and an unnecessary remake. Then I started hearing good things and positive early reviews, so I went in with perhaps higher expectations than I should have. “Footloose” (2011) is not a particularly good movie, but neither is it terrible.
For that matter, “Footloose” (1984) is no great cinematic feat either, but it had the distinct advantage of not having to be compared to a beloved old piece of popcorn fluff that everyone seems to look back on through rose-colored Ray Bans.
The new film has some pretty awful elements — the script, for one — but it does have some good music and a lot of pretty cool dancing. And, when looked at in that light, I guess the movie could be considered somewhat successful. After all, you don’t go to see “Footloose” to get a new perspective on the human condition; you go to see everybody cut, everybody cut.
It’s not just the audience that’s wrapped up in the nostalgia of this remake, it’s the writers, too. Perhaps more so than anyone. This could explain some of the choices. There are certain scenes that appear to be, shot for shot, remakes of the original. Other scenes hint at the first film, but then veer off in new, often surprising directions.
At one point, Ren ends up at the racetrack, heading for a vicious showdown with a jealous Chuck. As in the original, Chuck hops up on a tractor and starts in about “how we settle things down here.”
You know you’re in for the famous John Deere bout of Chicken, until Chuck stops the tractor about five yards from where he started, hops down, and points to a line of gaudy old schoolbuses. “We’re going to race those!” he shouts.
Okaaaaay. And you had to drive your tractor the 15 feet across the dirt track why?
In a similar vein, the filmmakers are slavishly devoted, apparently, to the pointless and silly scene in the original where Kevin Bacon dances all of his frustration away in an abandoned warehouse. The scene makes it into the current film, but it keeps switching tone, as if one writer wants it to be cool and serious, and the other thinks it’s stupid and ought to be a joke. Very off-putting for the audience.
In the end, I enjoyed “Footloose” more than I originally thought I would, but less than the original. Some of it’s the cast and some of it’s the writing, but it may just be that the film is simply lacking that Kevin Bacon appeal. It’s cute, however, and fun, and as long as you raise your tolerance for terrible lines, not a bad evening out.
“Footloose” is rated PG-13 for language, some violence, and lots of very suggestive dancing.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.