Toes are tapping, feet are shuffling and boots are bouncing in the opening to the new “Footloose.” Kids are dancing and frolicking, having a few beers to the title song of a 1984 movie, a tune by Kenny Loggins.
Then tragedy strikes. And Bomont, Georgia becomes the town that banned organized dances. The preacher preaches this from his pulpit, the town council goes along and the local cops enforce it.
But time passes, and it’s up to the dance-crazy new kid, Ren, to tame the local wild child preacher’s daughter, Ariel, and to get Bomont back on its dancing feet.
If there is a movie more familiar to multiple generations than “Footloose,” chances are it has hills covered in edelweiss or Atlanta burning down. You tamper with a movie, a formula and a story this beloved, you do it at your own peril. Even if the original movie wasn’t anybody’s idea of high art.
But Craig Brewer, the director of “Hustle & Flow,” re-sets that Kevin Bacon/Lori Singer/John Lithgow Midwestern hit in the rural South. Suddenly, it all makes more sense. He replaces Bacon with Kenny Wormald, Singer with super-dancer Julianne Hough and Lithgow with Dennis Quaid. He swaps a game of tractor chicken with a figure eight school bus crash-o-rama and ingeniously adds singing 10-year-olds to the show-stopper “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” number. He gave the film a little Southern hip hop, and brought in real Southerners Quaid, Andie MacDowell and Ray McKinnon to further Southernize it.
Brewer has made a new “Footloose” that is lighter on its feet and easier to swallow as a tale of teen rebellion against parents determined to over-protect their children. In most regards (We still miss Kevin Bacon), this is a “new and improved” “Footloose,” funnier, sunnier and funkier. Simply put, it works.
Wormald, a dancer-turned-actor (“You Got Served”) is the Boston kid who likes his music too loud for Bomont. He’s come to live with his Uncle Wes after burying his mom. And the drawling Wes (Ray McKinnon, of “Dolphin Tale,” superb in this part) is just the guy to show the kid the rules in Bomont. Wes is a father figure who remembers his own heck-raising youth.
Hough plays Ariel as an oversexed demon in cowboy boots — teasing the boys, especially her rich redneck boyfriend. Of course she’s going to flirt with the new kid. Eventually. Just as soon as she sees how much her preacher-dad (Quaid) disapproves.
And Miles Teller is very funny as Willard, the football-playing classmate who takes Ren under his wing, shows him around and teaches him about the South.
It’s a corny story, and just as dated as it was when it first came around 27 years ago. Some scenes such as the bus race feel out of place, shoehorned in. The whole Ariel’s-jealous-boyfriend element fails to ignite. But the dance scenes are more fun and Hough gives it a sexy, sassy edge, all by herself — lots of hair flipping on the dance floor, tight skirts, tighter jeans.
“Put a quarter in her back pocket,” one guy suggests. “You could tell if it was heads of tails.”
If that opening, with kids dancing to the title tune, doesn’t get you, the kids taking their shot at making line-dancing cool will. And if it doesn’t, you probably never got over that crush on Kevin Bacon back in junior high.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language
Cast: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell, Ray McKinnon
Credits:Directed by Craig Brewer, written by Brewer and based on Dean Pitchord’s script of the original “Footloose.” Paramount Pictures release.
Running Time: 1:53