By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Anyone thinking of remaking any movie should use Footloose as an example of how to do it.
First, use an original that wasn't great but pretty good for its time — and that time has passed. Then update the material just enough for fans of the original to recognize yet relate to from an older perspective. Keep those qualities that any next generation enjoys. Ditch the bits that are awkward in hindsight.
Director and co-writer Craig Brewer manages all that with his new, and in some ways improved, Footloose. The movie that launched a thousand dance parties in 1984 might do the same in 2011. The only thing blocking that is bias against any remake, the belief that nothing so cherished should be redone. Get over it.
Footloose remains a sturdy model of teenage rebellion with a beat, no different from much older movies starring Dick Clark or Frankie and Annette. Parents just don't understand, and their children don't care. But while the original made parents seem irrationally strict for religious reasons, this version makes them merely caring and overprotective to an extreme.
That may be Brewer's smartest move, since teenagers who adored Kevin Bacon flouting authority may now have children of their own. They can't relate to John Lithgow proclaiming that dancing is a sin against God. But they can project their fears into a scenario in which good kids die young and temporarily reckless. We see the fatal car crash that folks only mentioned in 1984, so grief plays a more important role than piety.
The deaths of five teenagers lead to a curfew and dancing ban cramping every other kid's style. New to this Georgia town is Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), a Boston transplant bristling at the restrictions. He's an easy target for a bully (Patrick John Flueger) even before making eyes at the tough guy's girlfriend, Ariel (Julianne Hough). She happens also to be the daughter of the preacher behind the ban (Dennis Quaid).
What ensues is familiar to Footloose fans and predictable for anyone who hasn't watched the original. Brewer doesn't reinvent the wheel, just gives it a new spin with cover versions of the first soundtrack's chart-busting hits. Rather than radio pop, they get a country bounce (Blake Shelton's title song) or acoustic pluck (Holding Out for a Hero, Let's Hear It for the Boy). The lone irritant is Ren's "angry dance" number, now set to a thrash metal beat.
Wormald won't make anyone forget Bacon, but he dances better, and without a stand-in. Hough's dance ability is well-known, but she also displays flashes of acting skill. Among the cast's fresh faces only one would seem to have a chance of approaching the career success of Bacon or co-star Sarah Jessica Parker. That would be former Citrus County resident Miles Teller, taking over Chris Penn's comic relief role as Ren's best friend. After this and Rabbit Hole, he's a talent to watch.
Footloose is fancy-free, an iconic movie's tribute that could stand on its own two, tapping feet. Watch both versions back-to-back, and Brewer's respect and skillful reworkings are clear. And when Ren dons that maroon tuxedo jacket and urges everyone to dance, try not to step on the person sitting next to you.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.