As I mentioned in my review for the 1984 original, I was very skeptical off the bat when I learned there would be a remake of Footloose. I’m sure I wasn’t alone. Most remakes are crap. (That’s not an opinion, it’s fact.) I envisioned overacting former Disney stars krumping (or is it krunking?) to awful remixes by Will.I.Am in an attempt to modernize an outdated story, thus sucking out all of the silly charm of the Footloose many people remember and love.
I am happy to report that that is not the case at all with Footloose 2.0.
The story remains pretty much identical to the 1984 version, but takes place in the present day. Big-city (Boston instead of Chicago) transplant Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald replacing originally cast Zac Efron a la Kevin Bacon replacing Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise) moves to the small town of Bomont where dancing and loud music are banned following a tragic accident which resulted in the deaths of five teens three years earlier. The ban was put into place in part by Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid taking over the John Lithgow role) the father of one of the teen fatalities. The preacher also has a daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), who has become rowdy and reckless since the death of her brother. Ren clashes with the strict rules of the town and finds himself intrigued by Ariel, which causes him to also clash with her hotshot race car driver boyfriend, Chuck (Patrick John Flueger).
From the opening moments: the familiar beat of the iconic song, the pan down to the groovin’ shoes, and the cursive title graphic, it’s clear that director Craig Brewer wisely chose to go the tribute route rather than the reboot route. Any remaining doubt is put to rest once Ren uncovers the yellow VW Beetle and rigs his iPod to blast Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head,” one of countless clever nods to the original. Brewer doesn’t miss a step (can’t help it) in keeping many of the little details fans will recall from the beloved original. I don’t want to spoil them all because half the fun is in recognizing them. (For that, I highly recommend watching the 1984 version a few days before going to see this one if you haven’t seen it in awhile. I’m glad I did.)
One of the most loved aspects of the original was of course, the music, and rest assured, those songs are here too, sometimes revamped, but in a good way. I dare you not to beam from ear to ear during the “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” montage. Again, not gonna spoil it, but it’s so damn cute. There’s some music from the current millennium mixed in too, and most of the time it fits in seamlessly and provides a nice mix of many different genres. Likewise, the dance sequences are sexier and more intricate, updated with moves you may have seen on So You Think You Can Dance or in Step Up, but it never goes too far out there.
There’s even some line dancing.
Much of the dialogue remains intact, verbatim even, but it never feels lazy. Like the music, clothing, and visuals, it’s memorable, and to give it an Urban Dictionary update would feel wrong.
Yes, “Jump Back!” is still in there. (Want that t-shirt? Get it here.)
So it’s a nice by-the-numbers carbon copy, but what’s different?
There are some tweaks made, and in my opinion, most are improvements. Some scenes are rearranged and reworked. For instance, we never see the fatal crash in the 1984 Footloose, but we do in this one and it’s a jumping, jarring finish to the fun opening sequence. Yes, it’s kind of a downer in contrast to all the cutting loose that precedes it, but it’s needed and adds emotional weight that the original lacked. The resulting “no dancing” rules put into place are meant for the minors in conjunction with a curfew which seems more plausible and less ludicrous than the way the far-fetched idea was handled in the first movie. In addition, the Bible-thumping bits are toned down and at one point Ren even asks “whatever happened to separation of church and state?” which I don’t recall hearing Kevin Bacon say.
Another change: Ariel’s in-church confrontation with her father happens directly after she is physically assaulted by Chuck (in the original, she goes to see Ren) and it works better due to the one-two dramatic punch (ugh, sorry). We also get a nice moment of closure when all is resolved between Ariel and her father (in this one, he puts the corsage on her) that we didn’t get in 1984’s.
Probably my favorite tweak, is the pre-prom Ren and Willard vs. Chuck and his cronies fight. Here, Ariel and Rusty do far more than stand in the background yelling “Punch him!” and “My hero!” (The audience actually cheered.) Other improvements include the cast being more racially-diverse, the (5 MPH) tractor chicken race changed to a much more exciting school bus demolition derby, and the origin of the mystery confetti finally being explained.
Unlike the first Footloose which cast actors that can dance pretty well in the leads, the update casts dancers that can act pretty well. For a film about dancing, this was a smart move as it’s much more impressive watching the dance scenes knowing the actors are doing their own dancing. (There is one suspect moment involving a hooded sweatshirt, but I’ll let it fly.)
Most people are aware of Julianne Hough’s dancing chops from her years on Dancing With the Stars. As for her acting, while she probably isn’t going to win any Oscars anytime soon, she pulls of her character competently and I actually prefer her Ariel to Lori Singer’s (Ariel was tweaked a bit, allowing the audience to sympathize a lot more with her this time around.) Newcomer Kenny Wormald, whose resume includes only a couple TV appearances, a straight-to-DVD sequel to CenterStage, and a bit part in Clerks II (I’m guessing he was in the “ABC” dance scene? Let me know if you spot him. ), has a background in dance as well and is just as likable and charismatic as Ren as young Kevin Bacon was. The real star-making performance here, though, belongs to Miles Teller (who pinged my radar in last year’s Rabbit Hole) as the adorkable Willard; he steals every scene he’s in. This kid’s got a bright future ahead, keep an eye on him. Ziah Colon is a perfect choice to fill Sarah Jessica Parker’s boots as Ariel’s spunky sidekick Rusty, while veterans Dennis Quaid, Andie McDowell, Ray McKinnon, and Kim Dickens round out the adult cast and all go above phoning it in.
It was really hard trying to find something that would warrant a second beer on this one. Maybe I was just in a really good mood when I went to see this and the energy of the audience got to me. I went with my mom, with whom I remember watching the original when I was a kid. I saw many other girls around my age with their mothers too as well as younger girls with younger moms and also teens, families, and senior citizens. Every last one of them was laughing, cheering, and dancing along the whole time. How often can you say that about a movie-going experience?
(Okay, other than Pixar!)
My one nitpick I guess, is that there are no surprise cameos from any of the cast members of the original film. For a movie with so many loving winks to the first one, I expected to see at least one (how busy could Lori Singer be these days?).
Color me shocked. This is a rare example of a remake done right. It stays true to the feel of the original while making a few needed updates and tweaks. And strangely, somehow, it even made me like the first one more than I did. For a younger generation, Footloose 2.0 may even be able to stand on its own as “their” Footloose. And if for nothing else, it’s worth it just for Miles Teller and the “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” scene.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time you spot a nod to the original film. (Better yet, don’t. You’ll be wasted in the first ten minutes.)
Take a Drink: every time Willard talks about boobies.
Take a Drink: every time you play the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game in your head with any of the actors in the movie.
Take a Drink: for every time I used the word “original” in this review.