I cringed every time I passed a poster for the Footloose remake. The whole endeavor seemed so unnecessary and even slightly embarrassing for those involved. After all, when a film hits upon some sort of unlikely alchemy to become a hit—some secret combination of Kevin Bacon’s big hair and Kenny Loggins’ bigger guitar licks—shouldn’t you just leave well enough alone? Because really, what are the odds that lightning can strike twice?
But I must say that director Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) has proven me wrong. He obviously loved the original film, so his remake serves as much as an homage as update. And he doesn’t try to drastically change it—making our hero Ren a hip-hop dancer, say, or setting the whole thing in Cuba (I’m talkin to you, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights)—he just tweaks it. He sets it in the south, not Utah, which makes sense. And he adopts High School Musical’s cheerfully multi-culti approach to casting and music: the film casually incorporates hip-hop, metal, and classic pop into its soundtrack.
Of course, there’s no way to really sidestep the essential corniness of the film (heck, it was even corny back in 1984): The young rebel with a heart of gold who just wants to dance (!) and the small-town preacher who stands in his way. But Brewer tweaks that, too. The film starts with a youthful burst of energy: We see an outdoor kegger, with dancing and raging hormones—all set to Loggins’ titular hit (still annoyingly catchy, by the way)—and watch as five goodlooking kids pile into a car, flirting and laughing and—KABOOM!—then they’re dead. The town council, led by Dennis Quaid’s stern-but-loving Reverend Moore, overreacts, setting curfews and banning unsupervised parties and, yes, dancing. It makes a little more sense in this context.
Besides that, all is more or less the same. Ren, now played by appealing newcomer Kenny Wormald, still drives a beat-up VW Beetle and still has big hair and skinny ties (conveniently back in style!). He still pursues Ariel Moore (Julianne Hough, late of Dancing With the Stars), the preacher’s sexy and rebellious daughter. He still has a hilarious and lovable best friend Willard (livewire Miles Teller, darn near stealing the show), who never met a cowboy hat he didn’t like. There’s even the famous scene where Ren "cuts loose" in an empty cotton mill—blowing off steam in a particularly dance-tastic way. (No body double necessary: Unlike Bacon, Wormald is a trained dancer.)
And I must admit, I had a blast. In the end, the film’s old-fashioned pleasures are sturdier and perhaps more universal than I thought. Final score: Dance: 1. Cynicism: 0.