Why remake a 1984 classic nominated for two Academy Awards? To illustrate just how much the teenage generation has changed in 27 years.
Built on the advertising scheme “This is our time,” Footloose, which hit theaters Friday, trades eight-tracks for iPods, rock anthems for hip-hop and ’80s vintage for modern garb. Despite, some upgrades and omissions, much of the original plot remains the same.
Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald), the protagonist of the film, moves in with relatives of Beaumont, Ga., after the death of his mother. Well-traveled, Ren finds it difficult to adjust to the stifling climate of the small town where, because of the deaths of five teenagers in a car crash while driving home from a party, dancing and playing loud music are against the law. Determined to make the most of his senior year, Ren makes friends with native Beaumontians while challenging the stringent laws stifling the town’s youth.
Director Craig Brewer isn’t out to rewrite the classic film; he keeps much of the original plot intact. In fact, much of the character’s dialogue remains the same. Fans of the 1984 version will recognize lines like “That’s a nice tie. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” and “I think you’ve been kissed a lot.”
Individual motivations and flaws are the same, although the actors bring some of their own color and depth to their characters. Wormald’s Ren is more motivated than Kevin Bacon’s and though he doesn’t surpass Bacon in the gymnastic dance scene, he shows audiences he is a close second. Actress Andie MacDowell, despite the fact that she has less screen time than Dianne Wiest, manages to convey a sassier, 21st-century preacher’s wife while still maintaining the original character’s values.
Much of Footloose’s music remains true to the original soundtrack. Brewer uses familiar shots during Willard’s famous learning-to-dance montage and remixes “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” over Miles Teller’s hilarious faux-choreography. Themes of “Holding out for a Hero” play over some of the more emotionally driven scenes and, of course, “Footloose” opens and closes the film.
Despite keeping much of the original script, the new Footloose makes some minor changes that affect the tone of the movie.
Unlike the first Footloose, the latest version censors less graphic violence. The infamous car crash that sets the plot of the film in motion is the first sequence shown in the film, and although there is no gore, the scene is emotionally affecting. Yet Brewer, in a sense, trades one car scene for another. Ariel, the rebellious daughter of Reverend Shaw Moore, no longer straddles two cars and laughs at an approaching tractor trailer on her quest for liberation. Instead, she leans dramatically out of the window of her thrill-seeking boyfriend’s racecar and waves a black-and-white checkered flag as the car enters the winning circle. Fans of the original might also be saddened to realize the standoff between Chuck and Ren no longer involves tractor-trailers. Now, the characters race school buses, a plot device left unexplained, and leaving audiences confused.
Like the absent car scene, certain characters are also missing in the new version, namely Ren’s mother. Ren arrives in Beaumont alone (from Boston, not Chicago), and for that reason, is perhaps more vulnerable. Brewer’s Ren helps his mother through the last stages of leukemia and after his mother dies, moves in with his Uncle Wesley, who is generally more likeable in this version of the film. Wesley, played by Ray McKinnon, resembles more of a hip uncle who wouldn’t mind witnessing the progression of Beaumont than the stern relative who treats his nephew like an outsider in the original. Wesley also has great one-liners in the film. “Not everyone has this town on lockdown like I do,” he tells Ren after getting him released from a parking ticket fine.
Willard, Ren’s best friend (Miles Teller), is also considerably funnier in the newer version. He perfects a Southern accent and small town ignorance while still harboring much of the original character’s charm and goofy grins.
“Do I look good,” he asks girlfriend Rusty, played by Ziah Colon.
“Yeah,” she answers. “You look sexier than socks on a rooster.”
A more striking character difference in the new Footloose appears in the character of Ariel, (Julianne Hough). Unlike Lori Singer’s church-girl-who-just-wants-to-dance routine, Hough’s portrayal of Ariel is more promiscuous. She tosses her hips around in tight shorts, takes off her shirt and waves it around like a flag and works her dance partners like stripper poles. Perhaps this is just another way Brewer attempts to modernize Footloose, but it contradicts Ren’s final speech.
“And that is the dancing we’re talking about,” Ren says as he appeals to the Reverend Moore. “Aren’t we told in Psalm 149, ‘Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song. Let them praise His name in the dance?’”
This might have worked in the original when dancing was simply dancing. But in Brewer’s version, the grinding, crumping and rump-shaking prevent the speech from having the same effect.
Not all of Brewer’s changes have negative effects on the film. More realistic fight scenes, wittier dialogue, a more diverse cast and difficult, synchronized choreography make Footloose a fun film. At the very least, if Brewer’s film doesn’t top the classic, it handles changes and targets the contemporary generation very well.