Footloose (2011) is yet another in an increasingly long string of remakes of iconic 1980s movies. Recently we’ve had the not good but not unwatchable Fright Night (2011) remake; the absolute abomination that was the 2010 re-imagining of The Karate Kid; a new Conan (2011) movie, and a new version of The Thing (2011), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There are a lot of arguments for and against the idea of remaking or re-imagining earlier films, but for the most part it’s met with scorn. People aren’t eager to see their favourite films of their youth changed or at worst, ruined, especially when the original versions are still so very watchable.
Few movie goers would have sat down to Footloose (2011) expecting anything spectacular, even more so for movie goers who came to this remake with the 1984 original in mind. I liked the original Footloose, I am only human after all, yet it has never been a favourite film so I was unsure what to expect from the new version. I didn’t come with high expectations, but I sincerely did not expect it to be quite so dismal.
Plotwise, Footloose 2011 is more or less the same deal as the 1984 original. Cool guy, Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) moves from Boston to conservative small town, Bomont where public dancing has been outlawed after a group of teens were killed in a car accident. In this version, Ren’s mother has died and he’s moving in with his aunt and uncle. In the original, his mother has moved to Bomont with him. It’s an interesting distinction, adding an emotional level to Ren that the first film didn’t really have the need to develop as there was enough emotion in the first Ren with his father leaving. Perhaps it’s a sign of social difference between 1984 and 2011 – a family breakup isn’t quite enough to warrant that kind of angst in a teen boy, so in 2011 filmmakers need the added emotional dimension of death. Just a speculation.
Ren falls for Ariel (Julianne Hough), the preacher’s daughter with a wild side, and lobbies the town council, and the Reverend Shaw, finally holding a formal dance. Everyone dances. Everyone’s happy.
In a lot of remakes, it’s the differences that gain the most criticism. In Footloose, the similarities between the two versions cause the most gripe. Perhaps it was easier in 1984 to believe a town would ban dancing. Perhaps with all its faults, this film just did a poor job at making a credible tale. Footloose would have been all the stronger it been remade as a similar concept of the original rather than a strict remake. There has to be more than a few ways for a cool city kid in a conservative town to shake things up a bit with some wild dancing.
Does this mean that the Footloose story is outdated? Arguably, yes. Which is why it’s still fun to watch it in its original version. This new version lacks the nostalgia of the original – with its contemporary music and fashions the whole premise just seems pointless and silly. And speaking of silly, Ren’s iconic steam releasing warehouse dance was a little dumb when Kevin Bacon did it. The Kenny Wormald redo is just laughable.
Wormald was a poor casting choice. While an accomplished dancer, Wormald is a limp, insipid actor who can’t even begin to compare with Kevin Bacon. Instead of Bacon’s troubled yet passionate Ren, Wormald comes over as whiny and arrogant and I just didn’t care about him. Dennis Quaid didn’t do a bad job as Rev. Shaw. John Lithgow did it better but then again, John Lithgow does everything better.
You can’t have dance movie without a strong soundtrack. Music was one of the best things about the original Footloose and it was with a happy ear that I heard the original Kenny Loggins Footloose theme open the remake. A few other original Footloose tunes reappeared, but they are lost in a mess of hip-hop or popped up country tunes. I’ve never been a fan of the original song, but the folkish cover of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holdin’ Out For A Hero’, by Ella Mae Bowen is pitiful, and Blake Shelton’s countrified version of the Loggins theme song is about as necessary as the whole movie remake.
All gripes aside, the choreography in Footloose is impressive and displays a definite talent. There is however far too much variation. With line dancing, crumping, overly sexualised grinding, and everything else in between the film seems confused as to what kind of movie it is. This really carries over into the plot. Is this a film about rebellion? About family? Friends? Cutting Loose? It tries to be all of the above but never quite makes it in any area.
Ultimately, the Footloose story is meant to be about “cutting loose.” The promo posters certainly think so. Perhaps being heavily tied to the now outdated original prevents this film from ever raising that cut loose energy, or perhaps it was just too lame on too many levels to make me want to get up and dance.