I feel a little like killjoy preacher Reverend Moore, the bible-thumper at the centre of “Footloose”, when talking about movie remakes. I know I’ve got to accept change and put aside my trepidation and just trust in the new blood, progress and the industry I once dry-humped on a daily basis, but ya know, it’s been hard to evoke a spark from the redo lighter the last few years so, so excuse me if I’m sceptical and still occasionally whine like a little bitch whose been kicked out of a Powerpuff Girls live-show for drinking too much schnapps.
So yes, my hate all remakes rule still stands….Or at least it did until the morning of Monday 26th September 2011 when, to restate from the bible, ‘I leaped and danced’ with joy, following a screening of ”Footloose” (I don’t believe “Footloose” itself was mentioned in the bible, but I’m pretty sure there’s something about Kevin Bacon.. and not paying him much attention on Good Friday, or something). The remake. Yes, goddamn remake of that classic boogie-woogie effort from my dirty-knee years.
Now, “Footloose” holds a special place in my heart. It was a cinema experience I remember to this day. Saw it at a tiny cinema on the Victorian border where, with a band of Hawke-era tykes, the energy and anticipation of hearing Kenny Loggins music blasting through a couple of fat booming cinema speakers was almost too much. I can’t remember if I was dancing before the film, but I definitely remember dancing afterwards – right in front of the project, replaying the film’s key dance sequences in silhouette.
I loved the film. Still do. Yes, it’s a product of its time to an extent, but it still plays well.
The music of Kenny Loggins and Bonnie Tyler, the coolness of then “Animal House” alum Kevin Bacon, the allure of Lori Singer, the power packed reminder that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it and the wild, hip dance sequences – yep, me and “Footloose” went steady for years.
Being one of the first BETA tapes I purchased (and cassette soundtrack too), director Herbert Ross’s film would become my go-to pic when I felt a little more step in my shoe couldn’t go astray. I could quote every line, every song lyric and even perfect a couple of the dance moves (though largely the ones Chris Penn’s ill-dancing Willard did). Okay, so it’s not up there with “Empire Strikes Back”, “Jaws”, “Close Encounters” or even “The Karate Kid”, but it’s still a childhood fave.
But you get the picture. The film, in my head, was as much a classic musical as the likes of ”Grease” and “The Wizard Of Oz”. And just as John Travolta would always be Danny Zuko in my mind and Judy Garland would always be Aunty Em’s mischievous pooch-loving niece, Kevin Bacon will be the one and only Ren McCormack – the boy who dared to cut footloose.
I guess the problem I’ve got with remakes is that, and it goes the same with all these 3D movies, is that this Xerox trend isn’t so much about merit as it is money. Nobody is interested in making a good version of a classic, they just want to quickly punch something out that’s got a recognizable name and will therefore have a good chance of making some money. From ”A Nightmare on Elm Street” to ”Prom Night” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” , most of the films of my youth have either been remade or are in the midst of being remade. It really is quite depressing (For the record, some have actually turned out quite alright – Robert Rodriguez’s “Predators”, Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead”, Mark Wahlberg’s “The Italian Job”, to name but a few).
But then along comes a guy like Craig Brewer. A guy who seems only interested in making unique and solid flicks – as evidenced by the few films on his resume, including ”Black Snake Moan” and ”Hustle and Flow”.
The stories within those films may not be fresh, but with his knack for casting, music, credible dialogue and sublime production design, Brewer made you feel like the films themselves were original.
I was as confused as most of you were when he signed on to direct a remake of “Footloose”. For one, how on earth will that fulfil the young filmmaker’s appetite for the original and unique? Isn’t this a lazy money-grabbin’ choice?
You’d think so.
I’m shocked to say, Brewer’s “Footloose” is not one of these lazy, paint by numbers remakes that have been flooding the market place in recent years; the film is a loving tribute to the original while standing high on its own. It might just be one of my favourite cinema experiences of 2011. I think of it as a classy Broadway production of a popular film (a’la “The Producers” or “Rocky Horror”). It’s the story you love — just tweaked and with someone else’s imagination and vision infused throughout it. This is far from lazy filmmaking. This is a filmmaker determined to not to simply recreate someone else’s movie and have audience guts squirm of deja vu for a couple of hours.
Bostonian Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), still coping with the loss of his mother to cancer, arrives in the squat town of Beaumont to start afresh with his uncle, aunt and their children. Almost immediately – and not helped by his choice of clothing or attitude – Ren makes an enemy with the police… for merely playing his music too loud. As Ren is quickly informed by some newly made pals at school (namely Willard, played by Miles Teller), public dancing, drinking and being out after ten pm has been outlawed in the town due to a tragic car accident that killed some beloved locals a couple of years before (as opposed to the original film, we actually get to see this accident). One of the young men killed in the accident was the son of the local preacher (Dennis Quaid), who has right behind restricting teenagers from enjoying themselves too much, and the brother of a carefree rebel woman (Julianne Hough) who is out to get some attention from her father, feeling the ghost of his dead brother has caused her to be doused in some kind of invisible spray.
Of course Ren and Ariel hit it off. And with the help of some pals, a couple of pages out of the bible, and Ren and the Rev coming to the realization that they might not be so different after all, everyone will indeed be able to cut “Footloose” at the end of the day. But you know that.
It feels new.
What works mostly about ”Footloose” 2011 is that Brewer doesn’t ever let it play anything but serious – and if you’ve heard the plot, you’ll know it’s hard for the film not to succumb to cheese (there’s moments in the original, I’ll admit, that play on the nose). Brewer yanks brilliant performances out of his cast, fleshes out their characters to an even greater degree than the original film did, and mostly, expands upon the initial plot by adding and subtracting a few things that might just make the characters plight easier to relate to.
All of the classic moments from the original film – to the game of chicken that Ren and Ariel’s brainless mound of brawn boyfriend Chuck (Patrick John Flueger) play to the crazy, singlet-dance in the work shed- but Brewer’s skilfully changed them up, so they don’t play like the original.
I’m not saying it’s a better film than the original, I’m just saying they’re both great – and they both stand alone. There’s room for two “Footloose” movies in this world.
And as much as Bacon will always be recognized for his role as Ren, Newcomer Kenny Wormald nails the part. He may be styled to look like Bacon and move not unlike Kyra’s bed-bud did in the original but he’s got a swagger, cheekiness and creaky smile that wins the audience over from the get go, anyway. The guy oozes cool (yep even after that raging dance scene at the mill). Expect big things.
In fact, the whole cast is good. Miley Cyrus-look-a-like Julianne Hough (“Dancing with the Stars”) is perfectly cast as the broken preachers child (though Lori Singer might still be my favourite – something extremely sexy about Singer’s performance in the original), Andie MacDowell is her caring mother, and the adorable Ziah Colonis a delight as the bubbly Rusty.
But I tell ya who near steals the fame? another ’80s icon in his own right, Dennis Quaid, playing the role made famous by John Lithgow, Rev Moore. Not so much fear-provoking as he is psychologically scarred and hurting from the loss of his son, this is a confused, gloomy man that is simply trying to protect his surviving child at any cost. Quaid immerses himself in the role, displaying a full range of emotions and really bringing it in the pivotal moments. As opposed to Lithgow’s version, who was played mostly as a villain, you might just find yourself rooting for Quaid’s Moore at times in this one — especially you parents, you’ll know where he’s coming from. If the Academy recognized films like “Footloose” (which, of course, isn’t going to happen), one of those toffee-nosed chumps might be inclined to scribble Quaid’s name on a ballot form come February.
Last but not least, playing the role made famous by Chris Penn, Miles Teller is amazingly good as Willard. Obviously channelling the late Chris Penn (right down to the voice and comic timing), but without it coming off as a desperate imitation, the guy is funny as heck and I think it’s fair to say even Penn would be smiling down below viewing the performance. I could not get enough of Teller’s performance; Katy Perry might just call it a firework.
The film also sounds new.
You’ve got Kenny Loggins’ classic version of “Footloose” opening the movie, and Denise Williams’ equally-as-memorable “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” also makes a reprise, but the film is largely due of fresh covers and other original tracks by the likes of Victoria Justice & Hunter Hayes (Almost Paradise) and Whitney Duncan (So Sorry Mama) . I have to admit that a couple of the songs towards the film’s third-half lacked the punch of some of the others (in fact, there’s even a couple of moments in the film’s third half that could have been improved upon), but the soundtrack is still a commendable effort.
So yep, stars, soundtrack… it all works.
But mostly, it’s Brewer who keeps this tug not only on course but prevents its passengers the nauseam and upsets that have marooned many-a-remake in recent years. My hat is off to you, sir.
the new “Footloose” isn’t cinematic paradise, but it’s… almost.