Julianne Hough (center) and Kenny Wormald (second from center) in the new… (K.C. Bailey, Paramount…)
As long as kids want to dance and Hollywood wants to profit from that passion, as long as daughters pout when fathers proclaim, "I don't want you to see that boy," "Footloose" will endure. And be remade.
The new version of the 1984 favorite that costarred Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer as the fastest feet in a town that bans youthful dancing is not so much a remake as a renovation. In the great tradition of Los Angeles real estate, a venerable property has been modernized, refurbished and tweaked when necessary to bring it in line with the demands of today's market.
That means that the clothes are tighter, the bodies more toned, the dancing hotter, the characters more racially diverse, the sexual context more obvious. But underneath it all still beats the shameless heart of a by-the-numbers diversion that acts as if these particular dots have never been connected before.
Completely understanding that proven commercial formulas need not be tampered with, this new "Footloose," directed by Craig Brewer from a script he co-wrote with original writer Dean Pitchford, stays remarkably close to its predecessor in all the ways that count.
Not only do entire scenes and lines of dialogue appear in both films, iconic objects like a yellow VW bug, a maroon dinner jacket and fire red cowboy boots (who doesn't remember those boots?) also reappear as if by magic. Brewer says they function as "signposts" to reassure the faithful that all is right with the world.
Audiences might expect something different from Brewer because his previous films were the faux-edgy "Hustle & Flow" and "Black Snake Moan," both of which were led astray by a slick transgressiveness that never ventured below the surface. At their core, though, those films as well as "Footloose" are monuments to the durability of sturdy cinematic clichés, the more venerable the better.
One of the first tweaks Brewer and Pitchford have made (aside from moving the mythical town of Bomont from the West to the South) is to open the new "Footloose" with a reenactment of the terrible post-party car crash that took the lives of five of the town's most promising teens, including the son of the Rev. Shaw Moore.
Cut to the anguished reverend (Dennis Quaid), looking, as he does throughout, as if he's just eaten something rancid. "Our Lord is testing us," the man of God insists, and, determined to teach to the test, he gets the town council to put its young people under curfew and ban them from engaging in "lewd and lascivious public dancing."
The reverend, as it turns out three years later, has had more success with the town than with his rebellious daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough). Unmoored by her brother's death, she hangs out with a disreputable stock car driver (Patrick John Flueger) and wears clothes so tight "if you put a quarter in her back pocket you can tell whether it's heads or tails."
Young Ren MacCormack arrived in Bomont with his mom back in the day, but the updated version ups the emotional ante by bringing him in parentless to live with his aunt and uncle. Though the town's authority figures are soon up in arms about the youth's "Yankee sarcasm" (star Kenny Wormald has been encouraged to retain his Boston accent), he looks about as dangerous as pasteurized milk.
Making fast friends with local boy Willard ("Rabbit Hole's" Miles Teller doing well in the Chris Penn role), Ren doesn't know what's harder to believe: that someone as attractive as Ariel is in this tiny town or that he's not allowed to dance with her.
One place where the old "Footloose" has it over the newer version is in the emotional quality of the acting, even though, as directed by the late Herb Ross (who gets a shout-out in the closing credits) the first film was hardly a dramatic landmark.
Still, the current cast, try hard though it does, cannot match the across-the-board emotional impact of having, besides Bacon and Singer, folks like John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Sarah Jessica Parker (as sidekick Rusty) and Penn on screen.
On the other hand, that current stars Wormald and Hough have stronger dancing than acting credentials is more in line with the kind of high-energy impact the newer version has set as its goal.
As hormones rage and familiar songs like "Footloose" and 'Holding Out for a Hero" get an updated treatment, it's hard not to wonder what the next remake might be like.
Will there will be a next one? You can count on it.