Wednesday, November 02, 2011

695 - Footloose (2011) review

“When dancing is outlawed, only outlaws will dance.” That’s not a quote from the advertising for Craig Brewer’s “Footloose” remake, though perhaps it should be. It’s the sort of brain-dead ad-speak chicanery that would work well with undiscerning audiences and those who like to take their dancing very seriously.

Here, as in the original, the action takes place in the Southern town of Bomont, a rural dystopia that has banned “underage dancing” in the wake of a high-fatality car accident. This probably seemed more poignant in 1984, the year of the original, a whole 27 years close to times when puritanical laws might have actually been enforced in one backwater or another.

If it was an awkward fit then, it’s triply so now, though certainly viewers familiar with small-town Southern life will find things to recognize. Socially, the communities can seem repressive and uptight even compared to many in Iowa, much less in even Bluer states, though director Brewer understands the true tone of things. There are bullies who use a perfectly good religion to impose their own personal sensibilities upon others, but there are many people of noble intent and a sense of fairness. Compared to “Straw Dogs,” another recent remake set in the South for the sole purpose of ridiculing Southerners and fetishizing their grisly deaths, this is a remarkable work of anthropology.

But I’m beside myself, because the audience doesn’t go to these films for lessons on American culture. Here, Kenny Wormald takes the role of Ren, an outsider whose arrival in this town sets off a chain reaction that results in an explosion of dancing, or teenage depravity, depending on your perspective. Originally, the role was played by Kevin Bacon, who probably would have been better cast as the town bully.

A glance at Wormald’s credits reveal that he has been credited simply as “Dancer” in several films, so it’s no great surprise that his screen presence largely limits its charms to the dancing sequences. “Dancing with the Stars” pro Julianne Hough plays Ariel, the town tramp (at least that’s how I read it) who catches Ren’s eye and becomes his favorite dance partner. The two spark up a romance that consists largely of hormone-drenched stares, reminding most of us fondly of that time in our lives where we weren’t great looking, adequate dancers, and had bigger problems on our minds than silly, unconstitutional town ordnances.

Dennis Quaid plays the town preacher, a man whose opinion carries so much esteem in Bomont that the town can practically be labeled a theocracy. I agree with the critic and former Roger Ebert sidekick Richard Roeper, who notes that Quaid “always looks like he’s about to say, ‘Ah hell, let’s go smoke a bowl!’”

Confession: I’ve never seen the original film, and perhaps as a result I’ve missed out on context. Then again, I doubt it. Here’s a remake that sees a character proclaim that his town is in fact part of the 21st century, with computers, cell phones, and internet, though I spotted none of those on my viewing. There was an iPod, but even that looked like an older model. Kids today might not be able to conceive of a world where dance is forbidden, but they’ll have an even harder time thinking of what it would be like to go through high school without a cell phone.

2.5 out of 5

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