Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Footloose (2011)

The Lord Of The Dance, Where Dancing Is Prohibited

Kenny Wormald as Ren MacCormack in Craig Brewer's "Footloose". 
Paramount Pictures

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
ay, October 18, 2011

The Eighties.  A much-maligned decade, it brought the "Me" generation and a host of music movies like "Fame" (1980), "Flashdance" (1983) and "Dirty Dancing" (1987).  "Footloose", sandwiched between the latter two films in 1984, was a huge vehicle that propelled Kevin Bacon's career.  As Ren MacCormack, the big city outsider who spent a summer in a small town Mr. Bacon shook up the locals and got them off their two left feet.  Now Craig Brewer does the same in his 2011 edition of "Footloose", and in many ways to brighter, cheery, more energetic effect.

Kenny Wormald, who as Ren bears a striking resemblance to a younger Johnny Depp, inspires a small Southern town to break its shackles and dance.  A tragedy (seen here but not in Herbert Ross's 1984 original) is the impetus for a ban on public dancing.  (Remember when Elvis Presley was told that he couldn't shake his hips?)  Ren comes in from Boston and sets a Dixie town alight with help from Julianne Hough as Ariel Moore, the daughter of the influential preacher and town crier (Dennis Quaid). 

"Footloose" still galvanizes 27 years later, and in Mr. Brewer's hands the film is an entertaining, crowd-pleasing rush of joy and electricity.  This new edition takes note of the technological upgrades (iPods and CDs over cassette tapes) and brightens the landscape, lifting some of the more tense and combustible atmosphere of Mr. Ross's film.  Kenny Loggins still reigns with his famous title song in the opening credits and during the film, and Deniece Williams's terrific "Let's Hear It For The Boy" is used in a cute way.  That old pale yellow Beetle car is still around, however.

Mr. Wormald and Ms. Hough are sweet and teeny-bopper cute together but their move and groove has an adult sensibility that makes them acceptably good in the roles that Mr. Bacon and Lori Singer inhabited a generation or so ago.  Some of the proceedings are surface and telegraphed, especially the scenes involving Mr. Quaid in the functional role of moralizer, more a caricature than a standalone character.  In the new "Footloose" the Bible remains the Southern town's politics and bailiwick but in the 2011 of fast-food 24-hour cable news and politics, the eventual MacCormack-Moore showdown is more blue state vs. red state clash of values, family vs. footloose.  It's the second time in recent weeks that a remake has conjured up an East Coast or West Coast invasion of the South.  ("Straw Dogs" had similar themes last month.)

"Footloose" is about uniting the material elements of Americana throughout the land as well as its varied entertainments.  (Levi's jeans, straw hats, cowboy hats, boots, tank tops, "Risky Business" Ray-Ban Wayfarers, all blended.)  The principles of openhearted vs. straight-laced are hardly new in the movies and they are often lampooned, though here not necessarily that much.

[Culturally, it is interesting to note that in some parts of New York City's East Village there are (or were) bars and some night spots where you are not permitted to dance, under local ordinances.  This was true in the late 1990s, and may be true today.]

The music remains the heartbeat of Mr. Brewer's "Footloose", which adds more hip-hop dancing and flavor.  Rap was still unfolding and thriving 30 years ago, yet Mr. Ross's film hadn't included it as a number in what has become a classic.  With rap's undeniable influence on America, Mr. Brewer, who chronicled the struggles of a would-be rapper in "Hustle & Flow", wisely uses hip-hop beats and dancers to add another layer and some inclusion to a "Footloose" that is more multicultural.  Michael Jackson's dance moves in his music video "Beat It" (1983) were a big influence on the 1984 "Footloose", and the late, great entertainer's footprint is felt again in Mr. Brewer's update.

Miles Teller (great in "Rabbit Hole") is excellent and memorable here as Willard, the Southerner who befriends Ren and gets his own dance groove in gear but not without significant help.  Mr. Teller's wonderful comic timing and dance steps spark this film and elevate it to slightly above average.  He's having the time of his life, and he lets us know it.  The late Chris Penn played the role before, and he too was very good but Mr. Teller has a carefree, unselfconsciousness to Willard that makes him instantly likable and charming.  Willard is the transitional character that sparks the audience.  The role of Willard is embodied in a winning performance from a talented actor.

Rousing, exciting and effervescent, "Footloose" makes clear, then and now, that the rules are made to be broken and danced all over.  The goose bumps however, remain firmly intact.

With: Andie MacDowell, Ziah Colon, Ray McKinnon, Kim Dickens, Patrick John Flueger, Ser'Darius Blain, Enisha Brewster.

"Footloose" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 53 minutes. 

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