Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
You probably weren't expecting a profound existential enigma in the new Footloose, co-writer/director Craig Brewer's remake of the affectionately-remembered 1984 youth-empowerment cheese-with-Bacon burger.
Nevertheless, it's there. During the opening credits, characters dance and sing to Kenny Loggins' familiar theme song. Later, other characters pop in a tape of Deniece Williams' version of "Let's Hear It for the Boy." The people in the 2011 Footloose clearly live in a world in which the 1984 version exists — with no apparent self-awareness they're re-living the exact same story.
The fidelity with which Brewer attempts to reproduce the original film is something rarely seen in contemporary remakes; in interviews, he describes it as akin to a revival of a Broadway show. And by virtue of doing very little that's different, he does a whole lot right.
There are a few minor tweaks. The automobile accident that inspires the small town of Bomont to enact its radical laws against loud music, dancing and other risky behaviors — only alluded to in the original — is depicted here. Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald), the newcomer from the big city, doesn't move to Bomont with his single mother, but as a teenage orphan now staying with his uncle and aunt.
But Ariel (Julianne Hough), the daughter of the town's preacher (Dennis Quaid), is still a thrillseeking rebel who's soon interested in Ren. And Ren is still determined to shake up the town's conservative status quo.
A few other noteworthy changes creep into the narrative, including abandoning the book-burning subplot entirely and switching the tractor chicken contest between Ren and Ariel's boyfriend (Patrick John Flueger) into a demolition derby. And there are a few goofy variations on the original film's iconic soundtrack. It's not like you could play the copy in virtual side-by-side synchronization with the original, but it's pretty damned close.
Individual scenes are reproduced virtually verbatim; "Dancing in the Sheets" still accompanies kids grooving at a drive-in, albeit with a little krumping added.
Ren's ride: a cream-colored Volkswagen Beetle. His formal attire: a maroon tuxedo jacket. Some classics never go out of style.
So why do it again if you're going to do it the same? Arguably, a different cast makes it inherently different, which can be simultaneously better (Hough an improvement over the impeccably wooden Lori Singer), worse (dancer Wormald a significant step down from Kevin Bacon's edgy insouciance) and the same (Quaid the perfect contemporary equivalent of John Lithgow as a solid actor who knows when to be a ham).
And most of Brewer's changes are for the better, from providing a less-cartoonish foundation for the town's alarmism to a stronger link between Ren and the minister in their mutual grief. But mostly, it's just a rare recognition that a popular film story can be told again so that another generation can enjoy it.
Brewer makes no effort to modernize his setting, or to provide a particular parallel with contemporary protective parenting, or include a winking cameo from the original cast. He just seems to have a sincere affection for this story that spills over into an appealing, energetic musical drama.
His characters, perhaps paradoxically, exist in a world where Footloose is a cultural touchstone. Brewer likes the idea of a world where it is, one where you just want to escape from a place of oppressive expectations and yell out, "Let's dance!"