Review: 'Footloose' is a snappy, superior cover version

The choreography in "Footloose" runs from line dancing to hip-hop and krumping.

Story highlights

  • Craig Brewer's "Footloose" is a fun remake of the 1984 classic
  • Wormald doesn't eclipse Bacon's performance, but he's an attractive actor
  • Because he's cast real dancers, Brewer doesn't have to slice and dice the choreography
If you grew up in the 1980s there's nothing guaranteed to make you feel older than a trip to the movies. "Conan the Barbarian", "The Thing" and "Footloose"... What's next? "Top Gun"?
But if there have to be remakes, then let them all be as much fun as Craig Brewer's "Footloose."
Brewer's previous movies, "Hustle & Flow" and "Black Snake Moan," were southern exploitation pictures with a smooth retro gloss, their sleazy trappings disguising a heart of pure vanilla. But both showed a real feel for music: hip-hop and 12-bar blues respectively. That's a good starting point when it comes to "Footloose," a fairly trite rock-n-roll rebellion story that's redeemed by its faith in dance.
The 1984 original was the first screenplay by songwriter Dean Pitchford, and Brewer sticks close enough to the template that Pitchford shares a screenplay credit with him here. Both versions get bogged down in silly speechifying, but in almost every respect Brewer's high fidelity cover version improves on the previous movie. It's sharper, punchier, better written and mostly better acted too.
If anything the city-country cultural divide cuts deeper today than it did in the Reagan era, but Brewer shifts the action a few degrees south and navigates a more even-handed course between them. His small town, Bomont, Tennessee, is quite sympathetically drawn. And if the city by-laws prohibiting loud music, drink and public dancing make the local elders come off like the Taliban, Dennis Quaid's Reverend Moore is not the shrill evangelical caricature John Lithgow played, but a concerned parent and pastor who assumes responsibility for protecting his flock in the wake of a personal tragedy.
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As Ren, the urban hipster who is taken in by his uncle after his mom dies, Kenny Wormald doesn't eclipse Kevin Bacon's star-making performance, but he's an attractive actor who refrains from posturing. And he's a sensational dancer.
"Dancing with the Stars" alum Julianne Hough -- who plays Ariel, the wild preacher's daughter -- has the trickier challenge of showing us a young woman acting out, sexually, and frankly seems a shade too mature to carry it off. That's partly Brewer's fault -- Ariel doesn't get the chance to explain herself until too late in the day, and it doesn't help that Hough seems to have been made up to look like a young Jennifer Aniston. But again, she comes into her own in the dance numbers.
Because he's cast real dancers, Brewer doesn't have to slice and dice the choreography: the music sequences (including eight new numbers and the four biggest hits from the 84 version) are dynamic and exciting. The choreography runs from line dancing to hip-hop and krumping, as well as a cute, funny sequence in which Ren's flat-footed buddy Willard (Miles Teller) learns rhythm from a posse of five-year-old girls.
Granted, it could never best the original for, you know, originality, but now -- as then -- "Footloose" is an irresistible celebration of young bodies in motion. Altogether now: Loose, footloose, kick off your Sunday shoes...