Movie Review: Is the New Footloose Really Grittier, Sexier Than the Original?

I could start this review with the requisite line about how the universe needed this remake like it needs another reality TV star. But instead, let’s talk about casting.

Kevin Bacon, for better or worse, made Footloose back in 1984 (though seriously, ladies and gents, I do not get the swoon-worthy thing, and dude could not dance). And Footloose made him. Now. Say what you will about Step Up. It was cheesy, it was silly, the plot was absurd, and the dialogue cringe-worthy. But lead actors Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan had the electric spark that makes your stomach drop out, and when they danced it was more than just talent and choreography. What do Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald, the two new leads of the Footloose remake, have? Rockin’ bods and syrupy tans. It’s just a slick show that renders the rest of this comfortable cornball story unforgivable.

Wormald plays city boy Ren McCormick, recent graduate of the Edward Cullen School of What Teenage Girls Want and newly arrived in the small conservative town of Bomont, Georgia, following the death of his mother. Chief among his talents: a Boston accent, car-fixing, the parallel bars, and dancing. But that’s just too bad, since dancing’s been illegal in Bomont ever since five promising high school seniors got themselves killed after a football game three years ago. The anti-dance movement is lead by the Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid, who seems to have replaced Mel Gibson as Hollywood’s go-to Christian) and other high muckety-mucks around town. Moore’s daughter, Ariel (Hough, alternately channeling Jennifer Aniston and Miley Cyrus in both the looks and attitude department), does her best to flout the rules by dating bad boy Chuck (Patrick John Fluger) and parading around in an endless array of tight jeans and tiny shorts. Hough’s good looking and a good dancer, but the angst that drives Lori Singer’s Ariel is barely there.

It’s not that this version doesn’t make minute improvements on the original story, though plenty of scenes (and weirdly, outdated-sounding dialogue) are lifted almost shot-for-shot.  The book-burning side plot is tossed to make way for longer dance scenes, a big plus, and Bomont is now populated by people of color. Ren’s uncle Wes, played by Ray McKinnon, is an amusingly pleasant surprise. Same for Miles Teller, who plays Ren’s buddy Willard, possessor of two left feet and recipient of a fun extended dance lesson.

Still, the movie’s producers have marketed this as a grittier, sexier homage to the original. Let me assure you, it’s not. If anything, it’s made more puritanical by the fact that this is 2011 and not 1984. There’s no sex in this protracted Shattered Dreams commercial, just some dirty line dancing and a few bad words. The film’s judgment on girls who’ve been “kissed a lot” reminds us that slut-shaming is alive and well while reinforcing the stereotype that rebellious teenagers are just looking for an active parent. Director Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) injects some life and color into the old movie’s veins, but it’s like receiving a kidney transplant while the liver is failing. Take it for what it is: a good reminder to hit the gym.