Of the many questions prompted by Craig Brewer's new remake of Footloose, here's the most intriguing: at the beginning of the film, in the opening credit sequence, everyone dances and grins and sings along to the Kenny Loggins title song from the original 1984 film. Clearly, in both our world and the world of this film, it is a beloved piece of pop culture arcana. But wait a second--the reason people know that song well enough to sing and dance to it, even though it's pushing two decades old, is that it's from the dopey '80s movie Footloose. So how do the kids in this remake of Footloose know it? Does this film take place in some alternate reality where the Kenny Loggins song is just a randomly-generated ditty about kicking off your Sunday shoes, and not one that was prompted by a motion picture about a big-city kid who comes to a small town and teaches them to cut loose, footloose?
Or, better yet, are we being set up for some kind of meta-movie mind-fuck, where everyone in the Footloose remake is fully aware of the original movie, and so when the big-city kid shows up, it seems that this mid-'80s extended music video is actually a work of prophecy? Does the kid know? Is this his destiny? Or does it prompt some kind of twisty intermingling of truth and fiction, in which the very boundaries of their reality--and ours--come tumbling down? Is Charlie Kaufman available?
Trouble is, the meta-movie in my mind that distracted me through the first few minutes of Footloose is infinitely more interesting and entertaining than the film that they actually made. It is, I am saddened to report, a slavish imitation of the original film, from the songs (in addition to the title number, "I Need a Hero," "Let's Hear It for the Boy," and "Almost Paradise" all pop up) to the dance numbers (yep, the "I'm so mad, I'm gonna dance" scene is just as silly this time around) to the primary storyline, of a Bible-thumping small town that bans loud music and dancing--a plot that was already functioning in a sort of weird time warp in 1984 (it would maybe play in a picture set in the 1950s, maybe) and is utterly incredible in the updated 2011 timeframe.
The fresh face in town is played this time by a newcomer named Kenny Wormald, and the nicest compliment you can pay him as an actor is that he is a very fine dancer. He's supposed to be from Boston, though his strained accent doesn't appear until a good half-hour into the movie; local yokel Willard (Miles Teller) tells him he talks funny, and you can almost see him remember that he's supposed to be working the Southie dialect. Co-star Julianne Hough, on the other hand, doesn't even bother with the Southern drawl of her castmates, or to do much in the way of convincing acting--her teary, high school drama club theatrics don't provide much evidence that she should quit her day job on Dancing with the "Stars". But their dance numbers are fun, and the duo moves together well; they're much more interesting when they're dancing than when they're talking. (Brewer's camera seems far more interested in Ms. Hough's posterior than in her character.)
Dennis Quaid, stepping into the role of the hidebound preacher, gets the movie's one witty visual gag: a tight close-up on his character administering a sermon, in what is later revealed to be not a church, but a city council chamber. But that's about all the role has going for it, and his performance is so confused and markedly lacking in subtlety that I couldn't decide if he was really buying this hogwash. Andie MacDowell steps into the role of his wife, played by Dianne Weist in the original, and that's about as serious a talent downgrade as one can imagine.
The picture runs an interminable 113 minutes, and is full of inexplicable sequences; most egregious is a nonsensical bus-racing sequence, which causes the audience to ask several questions: Why was our hero invited there? Why did he show up? Why does this sequence exist? Who thought a remake of Footloose was a good idea?
In all fairness, there are a couple of dance sequences (one at a drive-in, one at the end) that are legitimately well-executed and manage to get some electricity going. And a couple of the supporting performances (particularly Teller as the buddy and Ray McKinnon as the uncle) have some warmth and comic ingenuity. But there's no getting around it: this is a crushingly terrible picture. A few sample lines of dialogue:
· "You said you might kiss me someday. You think that someday could be today?"
· "I'm a man. Yer my rebel child."
· "My right to dance... is a right that you can't take away!"
· "You're in my world now, boy!"
And so on. The script is co-written by Dean Pitchford and director Craig Brewer, who has fallen far, very far indeed, from the heights of Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. Here's hoping he was paid and paid well for churning out this pap, because Footloose is to him as 2 Fast 2 Furious was to John Singleton--evidence of a once-promising director, selling his credibility. What a waste.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.