Grae Drake is currently off exploring faraway lands. Reviewing this week's releases in her place is William Bibbiani, CraveOnline's senior film critic and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast.
This Footloose sure is Footloose, alright. Craig Brewer’s remake of the 1984 original follows the storyline and character arcs so closely that you’ll be forgiven if you can’t tell them apart. Most of the original soundtrack also makes an appearance in a series of pretty faithful covers. (Ella Mae Bowen’s deadly serious countrification of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” gave me a good chuckle though.) Yes, Footloose is Footloose, right down to the fact that both films are actually pretty good.
For those who don’t remember, or whose parents have decided to raise them in a vacuum of popular culture, the original Footloose was a glorified commercial for a hit soundtrack which starred young Kevin Bacon as a big-city boy who moves to a small town where dancing, of all things, has been outlawed. What followed was a liberal wet dream, in which an enlightened secular youth showed (surprisingly sympathetic) good ol’ boys the error of their ways, culminating in a big speech where he uses biblical rhetoric to defend dancing from a preacher, played by John Lithgow, who represents the biggest opposition to cutting loose… footloose, if you will. And then it culminated again in a big dance sequence where we discover that most of the stifled teenaged youths were dancing prodigies all along in a gleeful display of unironic self-expression. Lithgow turned out to be a complex antagonist, however: a good father making difficult decisions who eventually even halts a public book-burning perpetrated by his own flock.
Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer’s contemporary remake keeps most of the plot and even the dialogue intact but removes most of the blunt political commentary, turning his Footloose into a fancy free but unambitious feel-good tale about a group of teenagers in conflict with the kind of parents who scream, “Won’t somebody think of the children?!” The dancing ban in Bomont, Georgia is now the direct result of sweeping legislation to restrict teenaged gatherings after the son of the resident preacher (a preacher now played with less depth by 1980’s cool guy Dennis Quaid) and his upstanding football buddies die in a drunk driving accident coming home from a local dance. Gone are the book burnings, replaced now by even more dancing and a Road Warrior-esque bus race that ends in cataclysmic crashes and a big whopping explosion. No, really. I never thought I’d call the original Footloose subtle… Actually, I think I still won’t.
Footloose still works as a vaguely rebellious “Us vs. Them” parable for disenfranchised teenagers, but the kind that parents don’t have to worry about. Angsty heroes fighting for the right to boogie isn’t likely to sow much discord around even the most conservative household, and is more likely to sell iTunes downloads than inspire anyone in the audience to do anything serious with their lives, besides (maybe) kicking off their Sunday shoes. But what this new Footloose lacks in aspiration it makes up for with a likable young cast and an infectiously bombastic pubescent energy, the kind that causes car doors to slam with the force of an earthquake and last minute epic fistfights to break out over who gets the girl. It’s the single most harmless teen movie in the recent cinematic landscape, and also one of the most charmingly fun.